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Tales from the water cooler: March 2009

Barrie Cadshaw reveals the goings-on in the public engagement with science community


Jack Stilgoe has left his senior research post at the thinktank DEMOS to join his former colleague James Wilsdon in the recently established Science Policy Centre at the Royal Society. 

Annette Smith leaves the British Science Association after a staggering thirteen years’ hard labour which has seen her evolve from regional officer in the North West to Director of Regions at head office.  Annette takes up the post of Chief Executive of the Association for Science Education.  Its former CEO, Derek Bell, is now Director of Education at the Wellcome Trust. 

John Davidson, Chief Press Officer at the Medial Research Council, is to be Head of Communications at the brand new UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation.  The brainchild of four of the world’s leading biomedical research organisations - Cancer Research UK, University College London, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust – UKCMRI will be based near the British Library in London and will find new ways to treat diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis, influenza and malaria. 

Ecsite UK, the UK network of science and discovery centres, has moved from London to Bristol.  We have it on very good authority that further changes including a name change for Ecsite UK may also be in the offing (there’s a lot of it about).

 And shakers…

There were plenty of vibrations at the Association of British Science Writers’ AGM in January where the whole furore of the ‘Life on Mars’ story was discussed. EurekAlert! had banned the Sun newspaper's access to embargoed material following a scoop by journalist Paul Sutherland.  (If you missed the controversy check out  The ABSW has responded to the saga by scheduling a session at the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists in  London, in late June, focussing on the whole thorny issue of ‘Embargoes: Friend or Foe?’

Further eruptions have taken place at the Times with the discontinuation of its Body & Soul supplement as its Saturday edition, under new editorial control, undergoes a revamp. Some factions of the science media fear that the change will mean the Times losing some of its key science features.   This echoes worries that were voiced at the British Science Association’s Science Communication Conference last year following science correspondent Nic Fleming losing his job at the Telegraph.  Are we entering a period of erosion and despair for the UK science journalist? – a painful process that US journalists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting say is prevalent in the USA. 

On the other hand, we have it on very good authority that the BBC is poised to bring back its flagship science and technology programme Tomorrow’s World.  It was on TW that the British public first glimpsed a breathalyser, ATM, calculator, CD and personal stereo.  In its heyday – it ran for 38 years – it was essential viewing for many to wonder at the future gadgetry that modern technology could bring us.  For others of course it was merely a geeky annoyance you had to tolerate to be in time for the opening credits of the equally defunct Top of the Pops on a Thursday night.  The new look TW is rumoured to be hitting our screens in the Saturday night tea time slot, no less.  We look forward to seeing what science’s answer to Ant and Dec looks like.


Applause to fewer moving and shaking, and more wobbly, bits as Chris Smith of Naked Scientists fame is this year’s worthy winner of the Royal Society Kohn Award for excellence in engaging the public with science. 

Be in touch if you hear any snippets you’d like us to include in the June edition of People & Science.

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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