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20/08/2014

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Tales from the water cooler: September 2010

Barrie Cadshaw reveals the movers and shakers in public engagement

Mover

John Holman is stepping down after six years in his role as Chief Executive of Myscience where he has been responsible for the National Science Learning Centre inYork. He will continue lecturing in Chemistry at theUniversityofYorkand pursue his interests in education and science. He will be replaced by Yvonne Baker, the current Chief Executive of STEMNET.  Since the coalition government came into power there has been much speculation amongst the education community that STEMNET will be axed.

Hema Teji and Toby Shannon have joined the British Science Association as Regional Programmmes Manager and Science in Society Officer respectively. 

On the eve of the highly anticipated budget in June Fiona Godlee, Editor of the British Medical Journal, gave Sense about Science’s annual lecture on challenging medical myths. She was extremely critical of the pharmaceutical industry - much to the annoyance of a former employee of a well-known pharmaceutical company who was seen to be spitting tacks at what he saw as the misrepresentation of the industry’s position.

Later that evening, the Chair of Sense about Science, Dick Taverne, openly contradicted the organisation’s Chief Executive, Tracey Brown.  She envisaged the possibility that Sense about Science would not need to exist in 5 years’ time, once its mission had been achieved.

Since the last issue of People & Science, the must-attend event of the public engagement calendar – the Science Communication Conference - has taken place. This year’s keynote address, given by Tim Smit, Chief Executive and co-founder of the Eden Project, was particularly colourful.  His view of science centres: ‘I think most of them are crap, really, I mean profoundly crap and then there's the dominance of the middle-aged male who believes in interactivity, they believe in it but they've not actually done it themselves.’ This was tweeted and retweeted, causing the Conference to appear in the top 10 ‘Top Tweets’ rankings on Twitter that day.

In fact the air of the Conference was filled with the flutter of tiny tweets from start to finish, much to the annoyance of the Director of theScienceMuseum, Chris Rapley who would have preferred Chatham House rules to keep his opinions within the four walls.  His fellow speaker Bob Ward, from LSE’s Grantham Centre, generated perhaps the most poetic tweet of the conference when he said, ‘The talk about uncertainties in climate change has become the language of inaction.’

The ‘scientific literacy lessons for all new Conservative MPs’ previewed by Adam Afriyie MP, the then Conservative Party’s Minister for Science, in the March 2010 issue of People & Science, turns out to have been voluntary, not compulsory, and in the form of one session of a panel with David Willetts and science Lords including Robert Winston. Only 11 MPs went and they weren’t all Conservatives.

The latest murmurings at the watercooler suggest that that there are many professional scientists who are hopping mad at the news of  Prince William (2:1 honours MA degree in Geography) being made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society this summer.  Who’d have thunk it.

Finally, how not to do it: a lesson from Monsanto. One of our finest rang them to ask about the European Court of Justice’s ruling against them. They had sued European importers of soya meal made inArgentinafrom their glyphosate-resistant soya beans. The firm has no patent inArgentinafor the genes that give the soya beans their resistance, so the company was trying to recoup payments from Argentinian growers by blocking their European imports.  And what did Monsanto do to answer the journalist?  Nothing.  Never returned the call.

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 and Science.

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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