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Tales from the water cooler: September 2011

Barrie Cadshaw reveals the movers and shakers in public engagement

Jack Stilgoe has left his role as a senior science policy advisor at the Royal Society to take up a research fellowship at the University of Exeter’s Business School, where he is working on a framework for responsible innovation.  Another departure from the Royal Society is Liz Jeavens who left her role as Education Manager. 

Hilary Leevers leaves her post as Assistant Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE) to take up the position of Director of Education at the Wellcome Trust.

Daily Mail science correspondent David Derbyshire has left the newspaper to pursue a freelance career.

The research councils have announced that their Researchers in Residence (RinR) scheme will close as of 13 January 2012. 


June’s World Conference of Science Journalists in Doha saw delegates dropping left right and centre from salmonella. Exactly how this happened is still under investigation. But it is not a smart move to lay low a conference attended by most of the world’s leading health correspondents. Indeed Deborah Blum, chair of the programme committee, is author of The Poisoner’s Handbook. The bug – picking its victims, perhaps? - seemed to have passed her by.

Minor hero of the conference: His Excellency Kenjiro Monji. Monji-san is Japanese ambassador to Qatar. He turned up at the conference for the session on reporting the Fukushima disaster, in which very little positive about Japan was likely to be said. He did not announce himself or demand a place on the podium. Instead he sat in the audience and put his hand up when he wanted to ask a question. Model behaviour.

Geopolitics intruded. Some journalists from Egypt and Jordan protested at the inclusion of US-Israeli journalist Anna Wexler on a panel. She was given her own session. And Israeli officials prevented Palestinian journalism professor Farid Abu Dheir from leaving the West Bank to travel to the conference.

A long and ‘dry’ Awards Gala Event was rendered unbearably cringe-worthy due to the deeply sexist, inappropriate and anti-South African remarks delivered by the evening’s compere.  The BBC’s Pallab Ghosh was seen leaving in disgust as the compere made offensive jokes about female breasts before introducing South Africa’s Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor, to deliver a keynote address!  She took the opportunity to tear a strip off the compere at the start of her speech. Good for her.

What is fame?

Sue Hordijenko, the British Science Association’s red-headed Director of Programmes, reflected on this knotty question after she was stopped in the street and asked if she was Rebekah Brooks, ‘the woman from the News of the World’. What has Sue concluded? Hair today, gone tomorrow…


The BBC has produced a report on impartiality in its science coverage (see p18).  ‘Thriving’ it may be, but for one half of the population much more than the other. The content analysis points out that  

‘those interviewed in both science news and non-news science strands are predominantly male scientists at English universities… In the non-news sample as a whole, 80 per cent of those presented as scientists were men.’

Rage against the Daily Mail: After the Academy of Medical Science’s report on human materials in animals, the DM’s front page claimed that scientists had produced 150 human animal hybrids in secret.  Wrong!  Nobody in the UK is doing this research at present and the 150 embryos to which the paper refers are likely to be ones produced several years ago under both HFEA license and immense media scrutiny. Hardly secretive. 

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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