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’OrĂ©al 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.