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Tales from the water cooler: March 2011

Barrie Cadshaw reveals the movers and shakers in public engagement

Tony Whitehead is to become the Director Governance & Policy at The Institution of Engineering and Technology.  Lucky them.  He has moved on from being joint head of Science in Government in the Government Office for Science – a role in which he worked for the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser.  Tony’s an effective man.  Let’s hope the Government Office for Science can do its thing without him.

Simon Festing, former CEO of Understanding Animal Research, has become CEO of the Society for Applied Microbiology.  And, at the time we went to press, there were two large career vacancies in science reporting. Julian Rush has taken early retirement from his role as science reporter for Channel 4 News, and Fiona Harvey has left her job as environment reporter on the FT. 

The UK's Royal Institution has appointed Sir Richard Sykes as the new Chair of its Council.

Nursing times

Paul Nurse has become President of the Royal Society.  Not long into his post, Paul appeared in a Horizon documentary asking why so many people distrust mainstream science. His conclusion? – that scientists should talk to the media more, because if they don’t, ideologically-driven polemicists will set the agenda.  Hardly a new message for the sci comm community, but it’s good to see it in a public broadcast.

Climate change sceptic James Delingpole (who described the programme as an ‘execrable documentary’) appeared in the screening.  Afterwards, he reportedly complained to the BBC of being ‘intellectually raped’. The charge presumably resulted from Paul’s asking him what sort of treatment he would want if he had cancer: that following the scientific consensus, or something based on his own research.

Fluid development

The Department for Education has announced that a new science curriculum will be introduced in 2013.  Education Secretary Michael Gove says that the OECD’s league tables show the achievement of 15-year old students in the UK falling from 4th to 16th place in science, although this interpretation of the figures is questioned. Gove wants more facts in the curriculum.  It ‘doesn’t include anything in science on the water cycle but does, helpfully, inform swimming teachers that pupils should be taught to “move in water”,’ he said.

But schools are facing big changes to funding streams. Local authority budgets have been cut, and the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ has closed or axed the independence of several bodies that support schools: for example, the Training and Development Agency and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. The implications of the spending cuts on organisations that support science in schools will become clearer as time moves on.

As strange as fiction

Susan Greenfield is writing a novel.  Speculation at the watercooler is that it might be autobiographical. If it is, would that be a way of telling her story without breaking her confidentiality clause with the RI?

Dark Red

No one can accuse the new shadow cabinet of being pale, male and stale in its choice of the new shadow science minister. She is Chi Onwurah, a young black woman engineer from a Newcastle constituency.  She tweets at @ChiOnwurah.

Hacked off

My spies overheard a conversation between two science correspondents about whether the British Science Festival’s press centre was too hot or too cold with the air conditioning on.  The Guardian’s Ian Sample told the Mail’s David Derbyshire that David’s excess insulation should keep him warm enough, to which David retorted that Ian shouldn’t be able to feel the cold either with his covering of ape-like body hair…

And finally the word on the street is that 007 actor Daniel Craig has a CREST Award

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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