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22/10/2014

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Tales from the water cooler: December 2009

Barrie Cadshaw reveals who and what has been moving and shaking in public engagement

Mover

Nigel Eady, the British Science Association’s Science in Society Officer, has left the Association to take up the position of Programme Manager with the Academy of Medical Sciences. 

Nigel began his career at the Association back in January 2005 as an intern.  After a successful career at the bench, he wanted to sample life in public engagement.  There was a time when ‘intern’ meant Monica Lewinsky, but these days it seems to be the way for those with an interest in public engagement to dip their toes in the water.

In at the beginning

I am happy to report that, despite the credit crunch in October, the Times has launched Eureka.  It is billed as a new monthly magazine covering science, life and the environment, and is the first dedicated monthly science magazine of any national newspaper. The first edition included a piece on ‘landmarks in the history of Times scientific coverage’ which was headed up by ‘1831: Coverage of the first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science’.  

The British Science Festival, as it’s now called, continues to enjoy huge support not only from the Times but the print, broadcast and online media in general.  Following this year’s Festival, Guardian science correspondent Ian Sample reported on their Science Weekly podcast that the most surprising thing to report from this year’s event was that the Festival was not at all bad (!). He went on to enthuse about the stories he’d got out of it.

Barely superhuman

This year’s Festival might have had some slightly risqué coverage had a rumoured event actually taken place.  I hear – from a very reliable source – that Robert Winston and Jim Al-Khalili were prepared to strip for science!  Spurred on by a little peer pressure (Marcus du Sautoy and John Krebbs), they were on the cusp of taking part in Exploring the Invisible (http://bioproject.tumblr.com/). It uses bioluminescent bacteria to light slow capture photography of the naked human form. The effect gives an eerie blue superhuman quality to the subject.

The Wellcome Trust-funded project - a collaboration between artist Anne Brodie, microbiologist Simon Park and curator Caterina Albano – is planned to culminate in a temporary installation at the Old Operating Theatre in London. 

Anne and Simon were at the Festival with their mobile booth photographing Festival goers on the Saturday.  Although Robert and Jim did go in search of the booth the following day – it had vanished – the bioluminescent properties of the bacteria had sadly degenerated overnight.  Robert and Jim were reportedly looking somewhat relieved.

Brain shaker

Our very own Howie Firth is asking us questions way above our pay grade.  Divining our support for Simon Singh’s campaign to reform the libel laws, he wants to know how legislation should be framed to exempt scientists from the laws of libel.  Would we advocate exemption for everyone who has a science degree, or would it be restricted to a particular category, whether heads of research institutions or authors of science books?

All we know is that disputes which belong in scientific journals should not be pursued through the laws of libel. 

Perhaps the shining intellectual calibre of the British Science Association’s Moray and Highlands branch, which Howie chairs, has led him to expect that we might be able to answer his probing questions.  Perhaps we should hire a lawyer…

Do get in touch if you hear any tales at the water cooler that you’d like us to include in the next edition of People & Science.

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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