Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Patent wars stifle progress

The Financial Times reports on a Canadian-led international study which reports that the drive to accumulate and defend patents is 'stifling innovation, particularly in biotechnology and health care. The study's findings were presented in London by the chairs of the International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property, Professor Robert Gold. Professor Gold is quoted as saying, "The old [intellectual property] approach of the biotechnology community has failed to deliver on its potential to address disease and hunger in both developing and industrialised nations. We need to do better, and the [information technology world] has shown us part of the solution."

Read the Financial Times article in full

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Testing primary school science

Two new reports published today by the Wellcome Trust highlight widespread concern about the "negative impact of national testing on young people's enjoyment and understanding of science".

The author of one report Professor Wynne Harlen (University of Bristol) stresses the importance of starting science learning at primary school. "There is a considerable body of research evidence that shows that, since children's own ideas are often in conflict with scientific ones, if taken into the secondary school, they can inhibit effective learning. The conflict leads many to find science too hard, too confusing and too remote from their real experience."

Although believing science should be a core subject, Professor Harlen considers the associated national testing has had "a detrimental effect on learning and teaching" and acknowledges that although it is necessary to know a child's level of achievement, the negative impact is derived from the "policy of using results to set targets and judge teachers and schools solely on the basis of test results."

The two reports form the first in a series called "Perspectives on Education" which aim to stimulate debate about the best way to teach science in schools.

Read the Wellcome Trust report in full

Monday, 22 September 2008

GM foods back on the menu?

The Guardian is reporting that GM crops are being given a second chance, with the strongest ministerial backing to date. Ian Pearson, science minister, predicts that "the public would accept GM crops if they could be convinced that the technology would benefit consumers". Pearson is quoted as saying, "I don't think the GM debate in 2000 was handled very well, I think that the public want to see benefits for GM technology for the consumer, not just for the fertiliser company or the farmer. If GM can demonstrably provide benefits for people living in sub-Saharan Africa... then I think the public will want to support those as products and want to see them commercialised".

Read the Guardian article in full

Australia plans for open access

THES reports that Kim Carr, the Australian Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research is planning reforms which will allow open access to all of the nation's publicly funded research. Australia currently produces 3 per cent the world's research papers and it is therefore in the Country's interest to "promote the freest possible flow of information domestically and globally". In a speech on the report he is quoted as saying, "The arguments for stepping out first on open access are the same as the arguments for stepping out first on emissions trading - the more willing we are to show leadership on this, the more chance we have of persuading other countries to reciprocate.

Read the THES article in full

Friday, 19 September 2008

Misconduct policy comes under fire

A new standard procedure outlining how universities should investigate allegations of research misconduct issued by the UK research Integrity Office (UKRIO) has come under fire. The new procedure dictates that universities should use at least one external investigator, but only after a complaint has been "screened" by senior staff to decide if it is sufficiently serious. The procedure has faced criticism from those who believe a mandatory system is needed. Aubrey Blumsohn, a campaigner for greater openness in the investigation of misconduct is quoted in THES as saying, "It remains the case that one or more powerful individuals are doing the investigating and the balance of power remains heavily tilted towards those who wish to maintain institutional decorum at all costs. It seems to be an attempt to put something in place to placate critics but is more like a Band-Aid on a cancer."

Read the THES article in full

Number of science A-level students decreases

A report by the Royal Society shows that the proportion of 17-year-olds taking maths, physics and chemistry at A level has decreased over the last 12 years in spite of efforts to reverse this trend. Michael Reiss is quoted in THES as saying, “Recently there have been encouraging signs that more young people are choosing to study the science and mathematics after the age of 16, but the longer-term trend exposes the failure of many changes to make enough of a difference.” The results do not include the new science GCSEs.

Read the THES article in full

RCUK Statement of Expertise finds supporters and critics

Following the announcement of the RCUK Statement of Expertise many have come forward, both in criticism and defence of its proposals. The Guardian quotes Philip Esler (chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council) as saying that the RCUK is “moving from a narrowly defined grant condition relating to ‘commercialisation’ to a much more wide-ranging and universal expectation of ‘impact’”. However, Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, argues that the government should focus on fundamental research. As quoted in Research Fortnight, “The research councils spend £3 billion annually of British taxpayers’ money. The empirical evidence for privately-funded research having much more positive economic benefits than government-funded research is strong. Until RCUK includes the ‘Expectation’ of showing that it is spending its money better than the taxpayer, its statement is but the PR of a vested interest.”

Read Philip Esler’s statement in full

Forthcoming Projects Peer Review Panel (PPRP) meeting

The next PPRP meeting of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will take place on 23rd, 24th and 25th September at The Oxford Centre. The Panel will be reviewing 5 PRD applications on 23rd September, 2 major project proposals on 24th September and 2 major project proposals on 25th June. There will be open presentations on each of these bids and all members of the STFC community are welcome to attend.

Visit the STFC website to find out more

Particle Physics: Brain and money drain?

In a presidential address at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, David King called into question the extent of Britain's future investment in the Swiss particle physics laboratory. King suggested that the government's investment in research needs to be more strongly focused on global challenges such as climate change. King also suggested to Research Fortnight that 'the high level and consistent funding for projects such as Cern has resulted in many of the most talented scientists working in particle physics and cosmology - possibly at the expense of other fields.' King asks '"Can we as a global population continue to afford seeing those brilliant people working on those problems, or should we try and attract them into finding the renewable energy sources of the future?'"

Source: Research Fortnight.