Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Sciblorg heads into hibernation

The Sciblorg is heading into hibernation and shall re-emerge shortly with more science policy news than ever before. In the meantime, the Society's twitter page will keep you up to date.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Policy Lunchbox: Nick Dusic

Science policy professionals met in London today for the first 'Policy Lunchbox' seminar, organised by the Biochemical and the British Ecological Societies. Nick Dusic, Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), led a discussion on 'How to engage with the opposition and with manifesto development in the run up to the 2010 election?'

CaSE has canvassed major and minor political parties alike in the run up to the European Elections on 4 June, asking them to provide details of their science and technology policies. The organisation plan to do the same over the next few months, trying to ensure that science, engineering and technology are a key part of each party's manifesto in the run-up to the general election expected in spring 2010.

Nick urged the learned societies and academies represented around the table to work together to influence the development of party manifestos, creating a clear statement about what science and technology policy should aim to deliver over the coming years. The election offers an opportunity to engage new people with science policy: and one which the scientific community can seize adequately only by working together.

Hustings featuring the spokespeople for the major political parties could offer one means for the scientific community to openly question politicians about their parties' policies on research and development, science education and skills needs. Nick singled out the 'Science '08'' debate, called for by the science academies and universities in America during the US Presidential Election, as an effective way to raise the profile of science, engineering and technology and to encourage candidates to make their positions clear.

Overall, Nick encouraged the science community to work together - and work with CaSE - to make sure that whichever party is called on to form a new Government in 2010 demonstrates a strong commitment to science, engineering and technology.

Policy Lunchbox is an informal network of individuals working in science policy. Find out more about the network and future events we have planned.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Emily Thornberry endorses the Society's work on women in science

After meeting with the Society's Parliamentary and Policy Officer Rebecca Smith, Emily Thornberry MP has agreed to endorse the Society's work on the issues facing women in science.

Find out more about the Society's work on women in science.
Emily Thornberry MP website

Monday, 18 May 2009

Wanted: Plumber to fix leaky pipeline of women in science

Janez Potočnik, the European Commissioner for Science and Research gave a speech entitled 'Women and Science: 10 years of fixing the leaky pipe' at the 'Changing Research Landscapes to make the most of human potential – 10 years of EU activities in 'Women and Science' and beyond' conference on 14 May 2008 in Prague.

In his speech Janez Potočnik reflects on the work of the European Commission in addressing the issue of the leaky pipeline and the need for a plumber. He stresses the importance of enthusing children's enthusiasm for science at an early age through means such as 'enquiry-based education'. Stakeholders such as teachers, parents, research managers and research-funding agencies have important roles to play in raising awareness. A new report, which was launched at the conference, looks at the role of research funding agencies as 'part of a systematic effort to map the European research funding landscape from a gender perspective.'

Janez Potočnik calls for proper data upon which grounded and sensible targets can be developed, highlighting the Commissions 'She Figures' reports which bring together data from all Member States. In developing this important resource further, harmonisation of definitions e.g. "academics" is needed.

In looking forward to the future of the Commission's work in this area Potočnik said, "Women and female scientists do not need favours or special conditions. What they need, what you need, is a fair, just and trustworthy environment and consistent policies.

Read Janez Potočnik's speech in full.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Race for the Prize

In an essay which was recently shortlisted for the BSCB's Writing Competition and appeared on the LabLit website, cancer researcher Alexis Barr discusses whether competition drives science forward or wastes resources.

Is it a waste of time and resources when two groups are working on the same thing, unbeknown to one another? Does more than one group working on a topic increase accountability and increase the rigour of results? Is a survival of the fittest ethos the right way to manage global science?

Read Alexis' essay in full.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Fruits of Curiosity

The recently announced Royal Society 'Fruits of Curiosity: science innovation and future sources of wealth' inquiry is now seeking your views. The inquiry aims to look beyond the current 10-year investment framework and assess the long-term direction of UK science and innovation policy.

The deadline for submitting views is Friday 5 June 2009.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Biochemical Society WLTM new Head of Education

Our Education team supports the Society’s charitable objective of communication, outreach and engagement through a diverse range of novel events and resources: school science websites, teachers' workshops, public events, arts initiatives and festivals, studentship grants, school visits, careers information, policy work and young researchers' symposia.

We wish to recruit a talented individual who will lead the Education Team, managing and further developing an existing portfolio of activities in support of science education and managing 1-2 staff. Educated to at least A Level standard (although a degree in science, communication or education would be desirable) the successful candidate is likely to have excellent communication and interpersonal skills together with the ability to work independently. Budgetary and event organisation skills would be particularly helpful.

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Find out more
Find out more about the Society's education work.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

86/609/EEC amendments continue

The European Parliament has rejected calls for changes in legislation that would have severely restricted the use of animals in research. It was feared that amendments to the directive (which were proposed in 2001) would limit animal research and increase related bureaucracy. Yesterday (May 6th) a large majority of the European Parliament voted in favor of the committee's recommendation and the report now moves to the Council of Ministers.

Despite broad approval from the science community, some aspects of the directive could still cause problems such as continued protection for the tiny juvenile forms of cephalopods and the push for compulsory data sharing on all projects. Final decisions on the amendments to the animal-research directive may not be made for up to 2 years.

Read the ScienceInsider article in full.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Talking about stem cells

Sciencewise has published an evaluation of the UK Stem Cell Initiative (UKSCI). The project involved 50 interviews with stakeholders and three deliberative workshops with 200 members of the public at various regional locations. The project aimed to inform research council decisions related to stem cells in addition to providing guidance on future public engagement on this issue.

Read the evaluation in full.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Job Opportunity: Chief Executive Society of Biology

The Biosciences Federation (BSF) and the Institute of Biology (IoB) are uniting to form the Society of Biology. This new Society, which will be fully operational in the second half of 2009, will provide a single unified voice for all the biosciences and act on behalf of all those who care about the future of biology whether they be teachers, scientists, leaders of organisations or interested non-scientists.

The Interim Council of the Society of Biology now seeks to recruit the first Chief Executive for the new organisation. This is a unique and exciting opportunity to lead and shape an organisation that must quickly deliver the key aims of:

  • representing all who are committed to the practise of biology in academia and industry, and to biological education and research,
  • facilitating the promotion and translation of advances in biological science for national and international benefit, and
  • helping the wider public to engage with the subject.

The successful candidate will have demonstrated that he/she can lead and manage an organisation with drive and success. He/she will be expected to share the vision for the future of the Society developed by the Interim Council and have the ability to deliver it effectively.

Read the job advert in full.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Workings of IUSS select committee come under scrutiny

The broad remit and dwindling membership of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) committee has been raised as a cause for concern. Set up in 2007, there were originally 14 MPs responsible for monitoring the government department with a budget of £17.5 billion.

The THES reports that recently the number of MPs who attend has dropped to nine ‘making it one of the smallest select committees and, on average, just six MPs attend each committee session’.

Brian Iddon, Labour MP for Bolton South East and member of the IUSS committee suggested that ‘the committee‘s remit was too broad, covering science as well as higher and further education.’ However it vital that the committee functions properly, he added ‘the select committees are the only way now we can scrutinise the executive in detail’.

Read the THES article in full

Research Councils to look again at open access

An independent study will cause research councils to review their current policies regarding open access after they admitted their current position was having ‘limited impact’.

Up until this point councils had been unprepared to require all council-funded researchers to use openly available repositories to deposit their work. Instead individual councils had created their own positions on the matter. However, the survey undertaken by SQW Consulting had found that open access is proving more and more popular with UK researchers. In a statement the councils said: ‘(we) have agreed that over time (we) will support increased open access by building on mandates on grant-holders to deposit research papers in suitable repositories within an agreed time period, and extending support for publishing in open-access journals, including through the pay-to-publish model’.

Read the THES article in full

2009 Budget - reallocation of funding a cause for concern

In the wake of the 2009 budget, academics are preparing themselves for a slash in funding after the government ordered for a redistribution of finances.

Research Councils are to manage £106 million in savings from the science budget in order for these to be reallocated to ‘support key areas of economic potential’. In the current economic climate John Denham, the Universities Secretary, said the budget was ‘a good settlement'.

So far no detailed information has been provided as to which programmes may be affected and councils have not been given specific targets. Research Councils UK told the Times Higher Education that the ‘bulk’ of the money would be found by reprioritising research funding. There would most likely be a reliance on co-funding research with the private sector alongside administrative cuts.

Read the THES article in full

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Introducing the newly formed Office for the Life Sciences

The Office for the Life Sciences (OLS) will work with industry to make further improvements in the operating environment for the pharmaceutical, medical biotechnology, and healthcare technology industries in the UK, culminating in the publication of a Life Sciences Industrial Strategy this summer.

The OLS has said that it is, 'pleased with a set of measures put forward in last week's Budget which will have a positive influence on the operating environment for life sciences companies and which recognise the importance of supporting the life sciences industry as a key strategic sector of the future' in a DIUS announcement.

The announcement goes on to quote Lord Drayson, who leads the work of the OLS who says, "It is an important achievement for the newly formed Office for Life Sciences that the Budget included a commitment to explore the tax treatment of Intellectual property to enhance the competitiveness of the UK."

Women in Science Conference

European conference: Changing research landscapes to make the most of human potential –10 years of activities in women and science, and BEYOND

14-15 May 2009, Prague

The conference will focus on how gender management enters into the modernisation process that is currently being carried out at universities and research institutions in many countries. Modernisation is generally focused on some critical issues such as: autonomy, funding, accountability, partnership with businesses, quality of research, intellectual property rights,open access to research results, contribution to innovation, community engagement, etc. Human resources, however, are often not included as one of the main issues – and gender issues are rarely considered. However, no true modernisation of universities and research institutions can take place if the social relationships governing these remain based on and ruled by stereotypes – i.e. if excellence is biased or if innovative-ness is not promoted through diverse thinking.

Gender-bias is often the source of the more-ingrained stereotypes: tackling it in the management of universities and research institutions could provide the basis for radical change in other fields."

Via European Platform of Women Scientists.
Find out more about the conference.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Hopes of £1 billion funding increase quashed

After weeks of hope that the UK scientific sector would see a funding boost, similar to that seen in the US, Darling's budget has come as a huge disappointment. The new budget does not contain any new money for places or research, although an existing commitment to ring-fence the science budget remains, an article in THES reports.

In a £400 million savings package, universities will be required to compete for grants. 'The £400 million in efficiency savings in further and higher education is expected to be found through the "use of benchmarking data, greater contestability, particularly in commissioning new programmes and services; reduced expenditure through lower than expected rates of inflation and the strategic reprioritisation and rephasing of programmes".'

Read the THES article in full.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

UK’s leading biology organisations agree to unification

Members of the UK’s two leading biology organisations, the Institute of Biology (IoB) and the Biosciences Federation (BSF), have voted overwhelmingly in favour of unification to form a single organisation, the Society of Biology. This positive development takes the IoB and BSF a step closer to the creation of an organisation that combines the expertise of the learned societies and other biology organisations with the professional skills of the IoB and its individual members. The Biochemical Society is a member of the Biosciences Federation.

Read the press release in full.

Biochemical Society Receives £113,317 from Monsanto Fund

The Biochemical Society today announced it has received £113,317 from the Monsanto Fund, a private foundation and the philanthropic arm of the Monsanto Company, to continue funding the production of new resources for secondary school science.

The Society's education team have drawn on their extensive links with leading scientists and teachers in the development of these “SciberBrain” resources. The website http://www.sciberbrain.org/ will feature free activities, games and animated slideshows that can be used online or in the classroom to inspire young people about developments in modern bioscience. Topics such as stem cell research, vaccinations and genetically modified organisms will be explored.

Monday, 20 April 2009

SCORE welcomes science diploma delay

The Science Community Partnership Representing Education (SCORE) has welcomed the decision to delay the introduction of the Science Diploma at Level 3.

Sir Alan Wilson, the Chair of SCORE is quoted as saying, "The decision to delay for a year the launch of the Science Diploma at Level 3 is one that we have been pressing for over a considerable period of time and we are delighted to see Government recognise the need for further work. This additional development time can now be used to address a number of key issues to ensure that the Science Diploma becomes a successful qualification."

Issues which SCORE hopes to address include:

  • How teaching, learning and assessment within the Science Diploma can be focussed towards applied sciences
  • The development of customised qualifications to supplement to the principal learning of the diploma to prepare students for opportunities in the sciences within both Higher Education and employment

Read the Royal Society press release in full.
Visit the SCORE website.

HUBS 2009

The Heads of University Bioscience Departments (HUBS) group has announced the programme for the Spring 2009 meeting which will take place between 4-5 May at Weetwood Hall, Leeds. The meetings will address the topic, 'Challenges to Maintaining Standards' and sessions will be held on, 'Key Scientific Skills', 'Practical Work and Final Year Projects' and 'Assessment and Feedback, Roles of External Examiners and Maintaining Academic Excellence'.

View the full meeting programme and register online.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Call for additional £2bn in funding

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) and a group of research-based universities led by Sir Roy Anderson, rector of Imperial College London are calling for as much as £2bn in additional funding in the budget, reports the Financial Times.

It is envisioned that the money would be spent through two streams, the first would be allocated to the seven research councils to support research and postgraduate training. The second 'would be used to help finance small high-tech companies and start ups' which are suffering from a long-term shortage of early-stage venture capital funding.

David Delpy, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is quoted as saying, "The big risk now is that, with the US planning to invest $18bn in research grants and $3.5bn in scientific infrastructure, we could lose what we have built up over the past decade."

Royal Society launches inquiry: 'Fruits of Curiosity'

The Royal Society has launched an 11 month enquiry, 'The Fruits of Curiosity: science, innovation and future sources of wealth', which will examine the role that science will play in equipping Britain to meet the economic, social and environmental challenges of the next fifty years. The enquiry will look beyond the current 10-Year Investment Framework.

Vice President of the Royal Society, Sir Martin Taylor, will lead the inquiry and at the launch said, "We have to seize this opportunity to reshape our economy, based on science and innovation... Our study will lay the foundations for a new approach to science, innovation and the creation of wealth. We are particularly keen to explore how policies for science and innovation can be better aligned with the transition to a low-carbon economy."

Biochemical Society President to become Chair of BBSRC Council?

Biochemical Society President Professor Sir Tom Blundell FRS, currently Sir William Dunn Professor and Head of School of Biological Sciences at Cambridge University, has been selected as the preferred candidate to become Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Yesterday (Monday 6 April), Innovation Universities and Skills Secretary, John Denham invited the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee to hold pre-appointment hearings and to report on Professor Blundell’s and Dr Gillespie’s suitability for these posts. This in line with proposals announced last year to increase democratic scrutiny of key public appointments.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Is Labour undermining Haldane principle?

Adam Afriyie, the Shadow Science Minister, ahead of a speech to science leaders at the Royal Society said 'the Government should stop pretending that the Haldane principle "stood affected" as ministers tried to use science to drive the economy', reports THES.

Mr Afriyie is quoted as saying, "It is... right that the Government sets the overall strategic priorities... but I am concerned that it may be nudging or picking particular projects within that".

The Haldane principle in British research policy is the idea that decisions about what to spend research funds on should be made by researchers rather than politicians.

Scottish universities face funding cuts

In the wake of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), 'nearly a third of Scotland's universities will see their total funding cut in real terms for 2009-10' reports the THES.

In comparison with England which saw a 4 per cent cash increase and a 2 per cent real-terms rise when inflation was included, in Scotland, total funding increased 3.4 per cent in cash terms, equating to 1.4 per cent including inflation. This news comes after the Scottish Funding Council announced how the £1.14 billion allocated by the Scottish Government would be spread across 20 universities in 2009-10.

Stirling and Strathclyde have seen the biggest decrease in funding with falls of 1.6 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively. This is 'despite receiving special moderation funding funding of £1.5 million and £1.3 million to soften the cuts' reports THES. The University of Dundee, Queen Margaret University and Glasgow Caledonian University have all seen below-inflation rises.

Within these allocation to Universities, some science areas fared better than others: Community-based medicine rose 102 per cent, physical sciences rose 31.5 per cent, hospital and laboratory medicine rose 30 per cent, while funding for biological sciences fell 19 per cent.

Read the THES article in full.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

China attempts to crack down on scientific fraud

SciDev reports that in an attempt to combat scientific misconduct, the Chinese Ministry of Education has 'stipulated seven acts of academic misconduct and how they will be punished.' The circular states that plagiarism, falsifying data and references, fabricating CVs and changing others' academic achievements or signing their names without permission are scientific misconduct.

The new measures are aimed at higher education institutions after a recent scandal saw an associate professor and dean of pharmaceutical science lose their jobs over allegations of copying data. Higher education institutions are consequentially also under pressure to train teachers and students in good academic conduct.
Hou Xinyi (Nankai University) is quoted as saying that 'it is the government-controlled grant and award system that has spawned misconduct among Chinese academia', with this system making it easier for those in higher positions to win funding leaving researchers under pressure to gain contacts in addition to publishing in as many high impact journals as possible.

Monday, 30 March 2009

EPSRC considers blacklisting measures

The Guardian reports that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has 'announced plans to "blacklist" academic researchers who submit three unsuccessful research proposals in any one year and have a low personal success rate of winning grants'. The EPSRC has said the proposal will help to manage demand for grants. David Reid, EPSRC's head of communications is quoted as saying, "A small number of people put a disproportionate burden on the peer-review system. We're talking about weeding out consistently low-quality proposals."

However, the announcements have caused fear and anger in the chemistry community, with concern about the impact of such measures on scientist's careers and potential department closures as a result.

In a letter to the Guardian, Professor Joe Sweeney (University of Reading) states: 'This policy will not increase the number of scientific projects funded: only the success rate will improve. Thus, then it presents the ludicrous possibility that the distribution of public funding for science will now be judged not by quality, but by the amount of money, in a self-destructive negative-feedback loop: the less money available, the less success, and the higher the body count of blacklisted scientists.'

A petition against the policy has been set up on the Number 10 website.

Read the Guardian letter in full.
Read Professor Joe Sweeney's letter in full.
Sign/view the online petition.

Concern over EU Directive revision

Some of the most influential voices in the UK bioscience sector have come together to voice concern over the Revision of EU Directive 86/609 on animal experimentation, through the Understanding Animal Research website. The declaration welcomes the opportunity to update the Directive, but voices concern that elements of the draft revised Directive could 'have a number of potential adverse impacts on bioscience research, on medical and scientific progress and on scientific and commercial competitiveness, both in the UK and across Europe.

Although it is hoped that the updated Directive will result in a great emphasis on the three R's of Reduction, Refinement and Replacement with relation to the use of animals in research, the authors of the declaration of concern reiterate their belief that animal research remains essential for the following purposes:
  • To develop fundamental biological knowledge;
  • To help deliver new medicines and treatments for citizens across the globe;
  • To protect the health of humans, animals and the environment

The signatories include: Sir Mark Walport (Wellcome Trust), Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (Medical Research Council), Professor Douglas Kell (BBSRC), Simon Denegri (Association of Medical Research Charities), Dr Richard Dyer (Biosciences Federation), Dr Simon Festing (Understanding Animal Research), Kenneth Applebee (Institute of Animal Technology), Chris Brinsmead (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) and Aisling Burnand (BioIndustry Association).

Read the Declaration in full.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

In his latest blog post, 'Getting the word out', BBSRC Chief Executive Professor Doug Kell includes discussion on the rise of the informal science mechanisms such as twitter versus formal mechanisms such as peer review. The BBSRC and Doug Kell can both be found on twitter (links below). As highlighted by the previous post on Twitter, the current willingness of decision-makers to (at least) engage with a wider audience through a variety of mechanisms should be applauded.

Read Doug Kell's blog post in full.
BBSRC on Twitter
Doug Kell on Twitter
Biochemical Society on Twitter

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Science Twitterers

As Twitter grows in popularity, some of the biggest names and organisations in science are getting on board and sharing their own tweets of wisdom.

They include:
Science Minister Lord Drayson
The Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills
Science? So What
Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham

And, not to be left behind... the Biochemical Society (policy efforts).

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Why is science important?

Good Question. Does this website have the answer?

Science teacher Alom Shaha says, "So, I’ve started this film and blog project in which I want to ask the question “why is science important?” to people who feel the importance of science so deeply that they have dedicated their lives to it — working scientists, science writers and, of course, science teachers. I’m making a documentary, funded by The Wellcome Trust, and running this “collective blog” as I work on the film. Bits from the blog will appear in the film and bits of the film will appear on the blog. The idea is that the two will inform and enrich each other."

Why is Science Important? from Alom Shaha on Vimeo.

Visit the 'Why is science important' website.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Please sir?

The BBC reports that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is in discussion with the Treasury about about a £1bn cash boost for scientific research as part of a stimulus package, similar to that seen in the US.

This funding is intended to 'keep academic talent in the UK while putting money into the ailing economy.' There is a concern that the downturn could destroy the scientific skills that draw high-tech companies to the UK in addition to potential 'brain-drain' which could see UK scientists drawn to the US and Asian countries where research funding has been dramatically increased.

It is hoped a decision will be made by the end of the month.
Read the BBC article in full.

Monday, 9 March 2009

US reversal on stem cell funding

The BBC reports that US President Barack Obama has 'lifted restrictions on federal funding for research on new stem cell lines'. This a significant change in policy after Ex-President George Bush blocked the use of any government money to fund research on human embryonic stem cell lines created after 9 August 2001. It is thought that this decision could see Congress overturning a ban on spending tax dollars to create embryos in the future. Perhaps predictably, the move to life the ban on federal funding was 'welcomed by stem cell researchers but criticised by opponents and social conservatives'.

Read the BBC article in full.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

RCUK poster competition - Perspectives

Research Councils UK is running Perspectives - a poster competition for early-career researchers. The scheme gives scientists valuable training and experience in discussing their research with non-specialists, as well as training in poster design and a chance to explore the social and ethical aspects of their work.

Finalists display their posters at the British Science Festival in September, at the University of Surrey in Guildford. Cash prizes are awarded by a panel of expert judges.
Perspectives is open to postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers funded by the UK Research Councils.

Deadline for applications: 8 May 2009

For more information, and to apply online, see: http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/perspectives

Call for readers

L’Oréal UK and Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, and the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET have partnered together to provide a dedicated UK and Ireland For Women In Science Fellowship Programme for women scientists at postdoctoral level to enable and/or facilitate promising scientific research in the life or physical sciences.

All applications are initially reviewed by readers who determine the long-list (of approximately 20) applications that are forwarded to the judging panel. Readers are currently being sought to assist with the first round of assessment for the 2009 L’Oreal UK and Ireland For Women In Science fellowships. If you are a senior lecturer or above, we would like to hear from you. The first round of assessment involves scoring the applications against a set of criteria (which is provided). Applications will be sent out in the week commencing Monday 13 April and feedback needs to be received by Friday 8 May. As a token of our appreciation for your help a small honorarium will be given.

If you are interested, then please contact - jcarpen@ri.ac.uk. It would also be helpful if you could confirm the subject areas you feel you can assess, as well as indicate the number of applications you feel you can review.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

US Congress passes science stimulus package

Analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports that the finalised $790 billion economic recovery bill will allocate $21.5 billion for federal R&D. The $21.5 billion will give $18 billion to federal agencies for the conduct of R&D and $3.5 billion for R&D facilities and large equipment. For a federal research portfolio that has been declining in real terms since FY 2004, the final stimulus bill provides an immediate boost that allows federal research funding to see a real increase for the first time five years.

High priorities are basic competitiveness-related research, biomedical research, energy R&D and climate change programmes. The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE OS), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the three agencies highlighted in the America COMPETES Act of 2007 and President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), will all receive significant boosts to their budgets. The final stimulus bill challenges the major R&D funding agencies to spend these large stimulus appropriations quickly, while at the same time spending them well. There will be unusual scrutiny of how and how fast the money will be spent. Scrutiny will be made possible by extensive accountability and transparency mandates in the bill, including separate appropriations for agency inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to monitor stimulus spending.

Read the comprehensive AAAS report in full.

Funding to focus on global challenges

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has indicated that decisions taken in next's year Comprehensive Spending Review will be influenced by a desire to allocate to studies with a commerical application, or those that address urgent global problems.

In the Times article he is quoted as saying, "I don't think the question now can be whether we go in this direction, but there are a great many questions about how we do so most effectively." Although Mr Denham has pledged that 'the new policy would protect basic curiosity-led research', he has acknowledged that some cuts will be involved. He also added that fundamental research was central to the new strategy - 'though scientists should make sure that they were quick to exploit any useful insights that emerged from it'.

Read the Times article in full.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Winner of FEBS/EMBO Wise Award announced

Professor Anne Houdusse will be awarded the Federation of European Biochemical Society (FEBS) and The European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) 2008 Women in Science Award. The award will be presented on July 5 2009 at the 34th FEBS Congress in Prague, Czech Republic where she will present a special plenary lecture. Professor Anne Houdusse receives the award for her outstanding contributions to the field of structural biology and the understanding of the molecular mechanism of action of myosins.

Find out more about the FEBS/EMBO WISE Award

Monday, 16 February 2009

What do you want to see scruntinised?

The House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee is issuing an open call for topics suitable for an oral evidence hearing in Westminster in April or May this year. The Committee - which includes members from the former Education and Skills Committee and the Science and Technology Committee - has a remit to look at all matters within the responsibility of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Topics must be within this remit and should also:

  • not already be under examination by the Committee as part of another inquiry (see the Committee’s website for details of current work)

  • be capable of being covered in two hours of oral evidence, with two panels of witnesses (the second panel normally being Ministers or officials, no more than four witnesses on any panel)
  • be timely
  • not relate to individual cases/any matters before the Courts or Tribunals.

Visit the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee home page to find out more.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Are research councils to blame for the fall in the number of UK Nobel Laureates?

Twenty eminent UK scientists have written to THES, calling for academics to 'rebel against new rules that state that the potential financial or social effects of research must be highlighted in a two-page "impact summary" in grant applications'. The letter's authors urge peer reviewer to ignore these summaries, arguing that the economic potential of "blue-skies" research is impossible to predict in advance.

The letter was coordinated by Professor Donald Braben (UCL) and Professor Philip Moriarty (University of Nottingham). Professor Braben is quoted as saying, "As soon as you identify a beneficiary for researh... the councils are going to turn it around and say, right, deliver. And then it is applied research... You can't have blue-skies research if you put caveats on it."

Speaking on behalf of the Research Councils, Philip Esler (chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council) is quoted as saying in response, "The description of impact that the research councils work with is broad, encompassing not only the contribution research makes to the economy but also to society as a whole. It covers not only economic benefits, but also those related to public policy, quality of life, health and creative output. Research councils will not be disadvantaging blue-skies research, nor stifling creativity."

Read the THES article in full.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

L'Oreal Fellowships for Women in Science

L’Oréal UK and Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, and the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET have partnered together to provide a dedicated UK and Ireland For Women In Science Fellowship Programme for women scientists at postdoctoral level to enable and/or facilitate promising scientific research in the life or physical sciences.

Four Fellowships will be awarded in 2009 to outstanding female postdoctoral scientists to assist them with their research. The Fellowships, each worth £15,000 (equivalent € for candidates in Ireland), are tenable at any UK or Irish university or research institute to support a 12-month period of research.

The fellowship money can be spent in any number of innovative ways to enable women scientists to further their careers and facilitate world class research - such as buying equipment, paying for childcare or funding travel costs to an overseas conference.

The deadline for applications is 8 April 2009.

Visit the Women in Science website to find out more and apply.

British Science Association Media Fellowships

Applications are now being accepted for the 2009 British Science Association Media Fellowships.

The Fellowships provide placements working with a national press, broadcast or internet journalist. During the placements of between 3 and 8 weeks Fellows learn to work within the conditions and constraints of the media to produce accurate and well informed pieces about developments in science.

Last year scientists were placed in a wide range of media environments including Radio 4, The Guardian, Nature and The Financial Times.
The application deadline is 10 March 2009.

Read reports from the 2008 Media Fellows.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Biochemical evolution and the Biochemical Society

In an article in the current issue of the Biochemist, Dr Chris Kirk (the Chief Executive of the Biochemical Society) speculates on the future organisation of UK learned societies in the biosciences sector. He suggests that the advances of the past 50 years have blurred the traditional boundaries between disciplines that were first defined at the beginning of the last century - societies like the Biochemical Society will need to work increasingly together to promote our academic interests. The imminent merger of the Biosciences Federation and the Institute of Biology will create a single body seeking to represent the interests of the entire UK bioscience community to Government, the funding agencies, Europe and beyond. Chris argues that the Biochemical Society should play a major role in the formation of this organisation and in shaping the future of the learned society sector in the 21st century. By doing this, we can build an organisation that will promote and defend the Biosciences just as the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics seek to support their respective disciplines.

What do you think? Use the comments section to tell us your views.

Read the Biochemist article in full.

Lessons from the past

In the past decade, the government has repeatedly emphasised the importance of taking an "evidence-based" approach to policy-making. In 2006, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee welcomed the government's progress in integrating scientific evidence into decision making. However, despite increasing use of evidence from the natural and social sciences, evidence from humanities disciplines such as history is not widely used. This POSTnote (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) considers how history could help to inform decisions on key scientific and technological policy issues. An increased use of learned societies and academies to help bridge the gap between historical research and policy is highlighted.

Read the POSTnote in full.

Research supports informal science activities

SciDev reports that researchers say they have now demonstrated that scientific understanding can be boosted through approaches such as museums, hobbies and events. It is also thought that they can also sustain a long-term interest in the subject. 'The Committee on Science Learning in Informal Environments found "abundant evidence" that individuals of all ages learn science across a variety of venues including programmes, designed settings and everyday experiences' through a synthesis of hundreds of pre-existing studies. Although the study was carried out in the United States it is though that the findings could be applied universally.

Read the SciDev article in full.

Read the 'Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits' report online.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Standing up for science

Voice of Young Science (a Sense about Science initiative) have launched their latest publication, "Standing up for Science 2-the nuts and bolts" to help other early career scientists, engineers, medics and others who want to promote good science and fight misinformation. It contains examples of different ways of standing up for science in public - from hunting down the evidence behind product claims to correcting misinformation in all kinds of media - along with practical tips on how to do it.

Read "Standing up for Science 2 - the nuts and bolts" online.

Visit the Sense about Science website.

Friday, 6 February 2009

HEFCE: Here to help

THES reports on a £50 million emergency fund launched by HEFCE to help fight the economic downturn. The fund is designed to create new opportunities for academics who are keen to work with local businesses to to help them survive the credit crunch through practical projects.

Hugh Tollyfield, HEFCE's special advisor on employer engagement, cited the example of 'how institutions situated near the factories of steel manufacturer Corus, which recently announced massive job cutes because of the slump, might attract ECIF cash. "They might offer short courses to people who have been made redundant so they have better prospects in the job market, or they might look at opportunities for improving processes (such as steel production)"'.

Read the THES article in full.
Visit the HEFCE website to find out more.

Will QR reinforce hierachies?

An article in the THES addresses the potential effects of the QR formula. The RAE findings showed that research excellence was widely spread across the sector, leading to speculation that large research-intensive universities was lose funding due an allocation formula which promises that research in the top three of four categories (4*, 3* and 2*) would be funded wherever it was found.

However, a decision was announced by HEFCE to ring-fence funding for science subjects (normally strongest in traditional universities) at the expense of other disciplines. This decision is expected to divert about £50 million away from arts-based subjects, where the research excellence of the post-1992 institutions is concentrated.

Professor Les Ebdon, chair of Million+ think-tank and vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire is quoted as saying that, 'while his part of the sector was "very pleased" that HEFCE had agreed to fund excellence where it was found and he was expecting "significantly more" funding flow to Million+ universities than previously, he was disappointed that research of "national significance" (1*) will not receive any funding, given its importance to "UK PLC"'.

Read the THES article in full.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Voice of the Future 2009

On Tuesday 10 March, organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the Voice of the Future 2009 event takes place at Portcullis House, Westminster. This free event, which aims to to strengthen links between the scientific community, Parliament and Government, is open to anyone with an interest in science under the age of 37. Registration for this event is compulsory and the limited places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. An application form is available to download from the RSC website.

Provisional programme:
12:00 - 12.30 Registration
12:30 - 13.15 Lunch
13.15 - 13.30 Welcome
13.30 - 13.35 Introduction (Phil Willis MP)
13:35 - 15:30 Science Question Time
Questions to Panel of Parliamentarians
Commons Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills

Visit the RSC website for more information and an application form.

NC3Rs releases annual report

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has released its 2008 annual report. This report is the mechanism by which the organisation reports to the Science Minister and stakeholders. The report outlines the achievements of the organisation in its fourth year, these include:
  • Increased funding for 3Rs research, with £2.6m invested in ten grants and a total of £8m invested to date;

  • Working with the major bioscience funders to launch guidance on the use of animals and the 3Rs for researchers.

Read the NC3Rs Annual Report online.

Visit the NC3Rs website.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

STEM Programme opened up to consultation

After being chosen by HEFCE to host the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme, a consultation process has begun which will allow you to have your say in how England paves the way for the future of STEM centred Higher Education.

Key issues are:

  • Structuring the National Programme effectively so that it may deliver on a national scale

  • The benefits the National Programme could offer to you and your organisation and how it may best achieve these

  • Effective practices upon which it may build

Consultation will take place online in addition to regional consultations. These regional consultations will take place on:

9th February - Botanical Gardens, Birmingham
12th February - Hallam Conference Centre, London

17th February - Hewlett-Packard Labs, Bristol
19th February - University of Bradford

Visit the STEM Programme website for more information.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Science Minister calls for focus

THES reports that Science Minister, Lord Drayson, has said that ‘the UK should narrow its research effort to key areas that boost the economy and deliver economic benefits’ identifying life sciences and earth sciences as examples of two such areas.

Lord Drayson acknowledges that this may call unrest as a concentration of efforts in one area will come at the expense of others. Before the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Skills and Science Select Committee this week, Lord Drayson said “I truly believe that we could be the world’s best at life sciences if we put our minds to it.”

Read the THES article in full.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Science: So what? So Everything

A new Government campaign has been launched to highlight the vital role science plays in the wellbeing and prosperity of Britain. "In the UK, we don’t value science as much as we should. It lives beneath the surface of everything we touch and taste. It is the key to our prosperity, one of the driving forces of our economy, and it creates thousands of jobs that keep Britain at the leading edge." The website contains engaging examples of how science affects our day to day lives, through news stories, twitter and short videos.

Visit the 'Science: So What?' website.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The future of higher education

DIUS is currently developing a framework policy for Higher Education for the next ten to fifteen years. In developing this policy, a number of independent individuals and organisations were asked to think about the long-term challenges facing the sector. This has resulted in a number of reports on issues such as 'Research Careers', 'Intellectual Property and research benefits' and 'Understanding Higher Education Institutional Performance'. These reports are available to comment on through the website. Don't miss this important opportunity to make your opinion heard as the policy develops.

Visit the DIUS website and get involved.