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12/07/2014

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Tales from the water cooler: September 2012

Movers

This month’s Mover Extraordinare is Roland Jackson, who is resigning as Chief Executive of the British Science Association. After a ‘fascinating’ decade at the helm he’s off to pursue other interesting projects. He’s not leaving the field entirely: he plans to retain his role as Executive Chair of Sciencewise, for example. He will stand down at the end of March, 2013.

Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust since 2003, has been appointed to succeed John Beddington as the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser. He will take up his new post in April 2013.

Kirsty Newman has left her position as Head of Evidence-Informed Policy Making at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to take up a new role at DFID.

Movers

This month’s Mover Extraordinare is Roland Jackson, who is resigning as Chief Executive of the British Science Association. After a ‘fascinating’ decade at the helm he’s off to pursue other interesting projects. He’s not leaving the field entirely: he plans to retain his role as Executive Chair of Sciencewise, for example. He will stand down at the end of March, 2013.

Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust since 2003, has been appointed to succeed John Beddington as the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser. He will take up his new post in April 2013.

Kirsty Newman has left her position as Head of Evidence-Informed Policy Making at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to take up a new role at DFID.

Shakers

Science communicators figured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Ken Skeldon, chair of the Association’s Aberdeen branch, was appointed an MBE for services to public engagement with science. See his thoughts about ESOF on p18. Julia King, Honorary Fellow of the Association and Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to Higher Education and technology. The Natural History Museum’s great advocate for public engagement with biodiversity, Bob Bloomfield, was awarded an OBE for services to science.

Arguably the nation’s most eloquent meteorite expert, the OU’s Monica Grady, who gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 2003, was awarded a CBE.
In hardly less exalted company, David Dickson was surprised to collect a Lifetime Achievement award from the ABSW at its annual prize-giving bash. Doing the honours, Jon Turney planned to give a speech hinting at who had won it but not revealing the name (even to David) until the end. But by plonking his IPad on top of the lap top on the podium, he shifted the slide show forward so David's name was revealed on the big screen as the winner before he even began his intro! Cue general hilarity.

Higgs and bubbles

Higgsteria has been sweeping the world of science communication. Many journalists described the Higgs in terms of a celebrity walking through a group of journalists, attracting them and being given ‘mass’ as a result of the cluster of admirers. The metaphor was coined by Professor Emeritus of Physics at UCL, David Miller, in response to a challenge issued by then-Science Minister William Waldegrave in 1993. Professor Miller, along with four other winners of the competition, was awarded a bottle of champagne at the Association’s annual meeting in 1993.

‘Most of the bubbly was later consumed at one sitting by my wife, her sister-in-law and my son’s girlfriend whose company more than made up for the champagne I did not myself drink,’ reminisced Miller. ‘The empty bottle is on the table in front of me now. I am pleased that my brief explanation still gets used to remind people of how ideas from one branch of physics can help another.’ [That’s obviously the connection between scalar fields in condensed-matter theory and in particle theory. Keep Up! – BC] In a more sober vein, Miller continued: ‘I wish I had another bottle of champagne for each time people quote me in the media.’

Memorable metaphor 2

The Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering report into fracking didn’t deal with the impact the technology might have on climate change. In her blog, independent researcher and adviser on environment and sustainability Becky Willis concluded, ‘You can wear a hard hat to beat your wife, but that doesn’t make domestic violence acceptable. You can follow the strictest safety protocols to extract shale gas, but that doesn’t make fracking acceptable.’

Let us know if you’ve heard any good science communication metaphors lately.

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Barrie Cadshaw
Barrie Cadshaw is at the British Science Association
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