Monday, 28 April 2008

DIY cancer treatment

The government has been warned about the danger of cancer sufferers choosing to self-medicate by using unregulated drugs such as DCA (dichloroacetate). The drug, which has been seen to have some effectiveness in research published last year, is being sold on the internet. Dr Michelakis, one of the authors of the work, is appalled and quoted as saying, '"The concern about this drug is that at this at this stage it is given to people who are very sick. Unsupervised it could kill you"'. Dr Ian Gibson, head of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer has urged the government to 'do all it could to highlight the problem and block sales from websites.'

Read the full article from the Guardian

Science in the news?

The Guardian is reporting that the Daily Telegraph's science correspondent, Nic Fleming, is set to leave with no plans to replace him. The often fractious relationship between the media and scientists is examined, with 'scientists traditionally perceived by journalists as lacking communication skills, while the latter stand accused of turning theirs to nefarious ends'.

Read the full article from the Guardian

Friday, 25 April 2008

Onwards and upwards to blue skies

In an interview with THES, Keith Mason, chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) outlines his plan for how the UK can deliver world-class science. Focusing on the £1.975 billion currently available rather than the recent funding cuts, he aims to clarify that the push for a closer interaction between science and business is by no means an attack on pure research in favour of applied subjects. The desire to further encourage critical blue-skies thinking - 'some of society's biggest advances have come from this approach' - will be balanced by recruiting managers with expertise is getting tangible benefits from science. By encouraging and supporting recruitment into these 'research-harvesting' roles he hopes that 'we can afford to have more pure research scientists'.

Read the THES article in full

Evolution of REF continues

In response to the HEFCE consultation, two modifications are being made to the REF implementation plans:

1)The timetable for designing the new framework will be extended by 12 months.

2) The methodological differences between how science-based/non science-based subjects are assessed will be removed. All subjects will be assessed using a combination of metrics-based indicators (including bibliometrics) and input from expert panels.

The REF will be introduced after the 2008 RAE.

Biosciences Federation response to HEFCE consultation

Official statement on HEFCE website

Thursday, 24 April 2008

EPSRC puts up signposts

In an attempt to facilitate further interdisciplinary research, EPSRC has developed a system by which areas of special interest can be flagged. At the beginning of April the '"physics-life sciences interface" research was added to its list of transient blue-skies signposts along with a budget of up to £8 million. The EPSRC have stressed that they are not calls for research proposals. Proposals which fall into signposted areas will be treated by a different mechanism than solely responsive-mode peer-review panels; extra experts will be drafted in to help panels with their assessments.

RAE decision rationale to be destroyed

THES is reporting that the panels assessing academics' work as part of the RAE have been instructed to destroy all records of how decisions have been made. The move has been motivated by the desire to avoid post-RAE challenges to decisions through freedom of information or data protection laws. One panel member is quoted as saying, '"It is for own our good. The process could become an absolute nightmare if departmental heads or institutions chose to challenge the panels and this information was available"'.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Super-laboratory has doors firmly closed

The £500 million project to build a super-laboratory in London is becoming a cause for concern for MPs. Last week, THES reported that the Government refused a request from the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee to provide quarterly reports on the UK centre for Medical Research and Innovation.

In responding to this request the Government said, "The Government and the MRC... do not think it is sensible to produce quarterly reports for the committee irrespective of whether there have been developments, as these risk creating a bureaucratic burden". The Government has not ruled out providing further information as the project progresses.

Mr Phil Willis, chair of the committee who requested the reports 'as a way of easing its concerns over the financing, timetabling and "science vision" of the centre' has called the refusal '"naive"'.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Where have all the students gone?

The Independent has picked up on a report published by the Royal Society earlier this year which found that there has been a significant drop in the proportion of UK students studying doctorates in science from 65% to 57%. This drop is in contrast with the total number of PhDs being awarded in UK which has increased, due largely to the amount of EU and overseas student coming to study in the UK.

Judith Howard, chair of the Royal Society's higher education working group is quoted as saying, '"We have to be concerned and we have to be concerned now. There could be a lot of consequences for the economy."' The Royal Society would like to see incentives for students to take science, such as bursaries and reduced fees. It also believes increasing the time it takes to achieve a PhD should be increased from seven to eight years, in order to compete with other countries in the Bologna accord.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Comfortable in the middle

Data published by Research Fortnight shows that between the financial years 2005-6 and 2006-7 it was second-tier institutions (e.g. York, Reading and Bath) that received the largest increase in funding. Analysis shows that 'the Russell Group's share of total grant funding fell from 72.5% to 66.8% between 2005-6 and 2006-7, while the share of the 1994 group, the coalition of smaller research-intensive universities, rose from 14.6% to 17.1%'.

Steve Smith, chairman of the 1994 group is quoted as saying'"The area where the 1994 Group traditionally lagged was research grants per member of staff. Now everyone is realising that metrics are coming in, and grant income has become an absolute priority."'

Concerns over ending drug trials early

Research published in the cancer journal 'Annals of Oncology' has shown a marked increase in the amount of studies that end prematurely. Concern has been voiced that in the rush to the licensing authority, results are incomplete and could be misleading.

Editor in chief of the journal, along with other experts have said, 'trials should not often be stopped early - the ethical duty to give all patients in the trial the drug that is working best should not override the duty to the public at large to obtain better long-term data on how well and how safely the drug works.

The Italian researchers recommend that the decision to stop a trial should be made by an independent board of scientists.

Article in the Annals of Oncology

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

HEFCE annual conference underway

The 2008 HEFCE conference taking place between 7-8 April is now underway and proceedings can be followed online at the conference blog. The proceedings include a Q&A from the opening keynote with HEFCE's Chief Executive David Eastwood, a new take on TV's Dragon's Den and a session on 'student learning through technology'.