Issue 6

Getting science heard by government

The crucial link between science and policy is well understood by Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Anne Glover. According to the Scottish Science website, her job is to further enhance Scotland’s reputation as a science nation, which she seems more than qualified to do given her achievements to date.

Professor Glover holds the Personal Chair of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen and has honorary positions at the Rowett and Macaulay Institutes. She is also an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a member of the Natural Environment Research Council and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Most of her academic career has been spent at the University of Aberdeen where she has an active research group pursuing a variety of areas. Read more »

Dr Victoria Martin

Dr. Victoria Martin completed both her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Edinburgh. After a postdoctoral position at Northwest University in the US she returned to Edinburgh as a researcher and lecturer in Particle Physics at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics. Most recently she has, along with a team of other scientists and students from Edinburgh, become involved in the ATLAS experiment at the LHC, searching for the elusive Higgs boson. Read more »

What is our government on?

In October 2009, Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), was sacked by home secretary Alan Johnson. Professor Nutt had long been outspoken in his criticism of the government's approach to drugs, famously criticising the decision to re-classify cannabis back to class B from class C, against the ACMD's advice. Nutt was sacked ostensibly because he had caused “confusion between scientific advice and policy”. Controversy ensued, with many in the scientific community pointing out that the comments were made in professional arenas, separate from the Professor's advisory role. The situation raises questions about the influence of scientific advice on government drug policy. How exactly does the government make decisions regarding drug safety and classification in the UK? To what extent is scientific advice heeded? Read more »

Mad science

Reto U. Schneider is a former science journalist who came across a number of weird and wonderful experiments in the history of science that he was not allowed to write about in his magazine. He never forgot those and, in 2004, compiled them into Mad Science; a tongue-in-cheek romp through 700 years of the ingenious, the misguided and the downright odd. Read more »

Swine flu policy

In spring 2009, an influenza (flu) strain commonly known as ‘swine flu’, emerged in Mexico. The strain is thought to have incubated and originated in pigs (hence the name) and is composed of genes from avian, human and pre-existing swine flu viruses. It spread worldwide and, in June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared swine flu a pandemic.

As the virus outbreak got underway, the UK government began preparations for the pandemic were it to reach Britain. So, how did they come up with the policy? Read more »

Bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex

Does a book called Bonk, a front cover featuring drawings of copulating couples and a fetching motif based on the tessellation of male gonads make for a voyeuristic read? The author Mary Roach certainly has an eye for the provocative, with a previous book entitled Stiff that looked at the sometimes controversial use of dead bodies in scientific studies. Bonk continues in the same vein, with chapters entitled “Dating the Penis Camera: Can women find happiness with a machine?”, and “The Upsuck Chronicles”, as well as an extensive discussion on the ontology of the G-spot (Listen to EUSci podcast episode 22 for the latest on the search). Read more »

A fine balance

In 1903, Marie Sklodowska Curie won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Since then, only 3% of all Nobel Prize winners across the three science categories have been female (with Dr. Curie leading the way with a further Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911). These statistics highlight the continuing gender imbalance in science; but what is causing the underrepresentation of women at higher levels of the career ladder? Why is it even important? Is anyone doing anything about it?

Encouraging women to both stay in and come back to science makes the scientific workforce in the UK stronger and more varied. This in turn affects our global competitiveness in science and innovation; the women leaving science are highly skilled and have spent many years training and learning, often toiling for a PhD in a highly specialised subject area. They are a valuable resource in the labour market. Read more »

Dr Hypothesis (Issue 6)

Dear Dr Hypothesis

I have a simple question. I’m just getting over a nasty cold and was wondering why you get hot even if you have a cold?

Feverish Fred Read more »

Careers in science policy

When it comes to influencing government policy, science has two avenues through which it can reach the right ears. One is by having skilled science consultants report on the current state of the research. The other is by sounding out public attitudes towards science issues. In both areas, skilled scientists are needed, but what is it like to build a career in science policy?

Dr Suzanne King is the director of People Science & Policy, a small consultancy based in London. The topics her firm has tackled range from everyday perceptions of physics and synthetic biology to the public's understanding of climate change and willingness to use environmentally friendly transport. Read more »

Like killing mice

I, Benedict Michael Matthew Hume, Inspector, first class, of the XIXth Moral Enforcement Unit and Inquisition (Electronic Atrocities Division), confirm before almighty God that what follows is a true and accurate account of the events of January the 27th 2110, in my precinct, the city of Edinburgh.

I arrived at Niddry Street at 3.25pm, thirty minutes after receiving the call from Sergeant MacNeil, who greeted me at the cordoned-off area and presented me with a torch and dust mask.

“Dark in there?” I asked him idly.

“Dusty, too,” he said, sneering slightly. “Sir.”

I let it slide, took the torch from him without comment. “What’s all the fuss about, MacNeil? Don’t tell me you got us all out here over a slide rule and a pack of tarot cards.” Read more »

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