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Archive for October, 2009

STS Blog Prize 2009-2010

By Jon Agar, on 26 October 2009

Have something to say about science and technology?
Are you interested in developing your science reporting skills?

** STS Blog Prize 2009-2010 **

A prize is being offered for the best contribution to the STS Observatory blog. The competition is open to all STS students (undergraduate, masters and PhD).

To be considered for the STS Blog Prize, a contribution to the STS Observatory blog must be submitted Friday 30th April 2010.

The website of the STS Observatory is:


If you do not already have a username and password then contact Jon Agar (ucrhjea@ucl.ac.uk)

The prize is £50 in book tokens and the title “Winner of the STS Blog
Prize 2009-2010”.

The prize will be awarded in May 2010 to the best blog entry as rated by a panel of judges according to the following criteria (in no particular order):

– informative
– entertaining
– accurate
– thought-provoking
– timeliness

Any questions, contact: Jon Agar (ucrhjea@ucl.ac.uk)

“Planck Club” – a rubbish idea

By ucrhjoe, on 21 October 2009

UCL’s upper management likes to taut the idea of “Planck’s Club”. In the words of our Provost “Almost all the great scientific discoveries came unexpectedly from the work of a relatively few pioneering researchers such as Planck, Einstein, Avery, Townes, Crick and Watson, Huxley, Perutz, and perhaps 300 others of similar calibre – the “Planck Club” – whose discoveries usually won them Nobel Prizes or other prestigious awards. However, their modern successors are not as free, and constraints such as peer review in particular inhibit challenges to conventional wisdom.” (19 October 2009 e-mail newsletter to all staff)

This idea has recently been promoted as part of a wide ranging criticism about academic funding. Simply put, modern funding is too bureaurocratic, institutionalised, slow, and focused on tiny bits of routine science. It doesn’t encourage radical and out-of-the-box thinking.

The idea behind a “Planck’s Club” is based on lousy history (meaning, it’s false) and lousy problem formulation (meaning, it’s built on lousy premises). It also perpetuates dangerous biases (meaning, it stacks the deck in favour of certain things and against others). In the end, it’s simply pick-and-mix heritage in which big names are plucked from thin air and put to work by someone who wants justification for a position they already had.

I’m not saying the approach is wrong: benefactors should be able to offer money however they want to offer it. And I’m certainly not saying modern patronage by government agencies for science is the best organised it can be. But Provosts at top universities need to be smarter in their choice of words and not get sucked into somebody’s game of “I’m too good to be bound by your rules.”


Janez Potočnik

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

Janez Potočnik is a Slovenian politician, currently serving as European Commissioner for Science and Research. The European Commissioner for Science and Research is a portfolio within the European Commission. The portfolio is responsible primarily for research and improving the conditions in the Union for researchers. Potočnik has stated that he believes trading knowledge and the development of an information society to create prosperity is as important to Europe as trading steel and coal to create peace was 50 years ago. He aims to develop the European Research Area. Potočnik is also the commissioner responsible for Directorate-General for Research and Joint Research Centre.


Prof. Mark Welland, Ministry of Defence Chief Scientific Advisor

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

As the ministry of defence’s chief scientific advisor Prof. Mark Welland provides direction to the MoD’s research and development, which has an annual budget of £2.6 billion.


Archbishop of Canterbury

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

Although church attendance has dropped, the Church of England still carries much influence with the Archbishop’s opinions well publicised by the press and evaluated by politicians. As someone who is perceived by the public as standing up for moral rights, his views are important in influencing public views on scientific endeavour. Dr Williams has issued statements about creationism, teaching of science in schools and genetic and embryonal research. In 2008 he said that “Man playing God is not a problem about science. It’s a problem about our decisions about the results of science and we shouldn’t be so much afraid of science as we should about our own inability to have a clear moral perspective on these matters.” This reflects statements made by the Pope about protecting the humanity of individuals.


David Shukman

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

Being the Environment and Science correspondent, David Shukman has particular control over the scientific bulletins which reach both the six o’clock and ten o’clock news programmes. With the BBC being arguably one of the greatest sources of impartial information and with its ability to reach a wide and diverse audience, the choice as to which stories do and do not qualify for broadcast undoubtedly has huge sway on public awareness and reaction. On his BBC biography David Shuckman is portrayed as having particular interest in environmental stories and climate change (interestingly), despite having no clear previous association with science himself and with his previous experience being more related to international political affairs.

Dr. Evan Harris, Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Minister in the Department for Science

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

Dr Evan Harris is the Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Minister in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Shadow Minister for Science. He has campaigned for free speech, anti-discrimination and the separation of religion and the state. Dr. Harris has been a member of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee and Oxfordshire Health Authority’s Research Ethics Committee.

Further Info: http://www.libdems.org.uk/people_detail.aspx?name=Evan_Harris&pPK=a5530410-402e-4092-a07e-29373e654fe5

Margaret Chan

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

Dr Margaret Chan is the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). She is responsible for overseeing, organising and guiding the activities of a body tasked with raising the health level of all people. The WHO influences research around the world by providing reliable statistics, raising awareness of quickly-spreading diseases, co-ordinating efforts between research groups and funding research. The WHO funds both research and data-gathering projects in the UK, such as at the George Institute in Bloomsbury.

The WHO influences pharmaceutical and non-profit R&D through the publication of the World Health Report and the International Classifcation of Diseases.

Margaret Chan, copyright Agência Brasil released under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5 Brazil

Margaret Chan, copyright Agência Brasil released under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5 Brazil

(Written by Luke Goodsell)

Key people in UK science The Rt Hon Lord Mandelson

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

The Rt Hon Lord Mandelson.


Holds overall responsibility for the Depratment of Business, Innovation and Skills. He has roles at the heart of the UK government as head of BIS and the Privy council, First Secretary of State and Lord President of the Council. Ministers inside his department cover science and innovation, Higher and Further Education, intellectual property, investment, regional economic development and digital Britain. Advocate for the knowledge economy, linking scientific discories with jobs, European cooperation and UK-Japanese links.




http://www.bis.gov.uk/ministers/lord-mandelson accessed 12th Oct 2009


http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/detail.aspx?NewsAreaId=2&ReleaseID=405251&SubjectId=2SubjectId=2 accessed 12 Oct 2009


http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=406966 accessed 12 Oct 2009

Paul Dacre

By key_concepts_team, on 12 October 2009

Paul Dacre is the current incumbant editor of the Daily Mail.  This man has the most control of any single person in the British media on UK science policy.  Perhaps single handedly, the Daily Mail has caused restrictions on the use of GM crops, spurious public health scares on vaccination (notably MMR) and a public obsession with classifying every known foodstuff into the category of “causes cancer” or “protects against cancer”.

For more information, see: