The London Science Festival began on Wednesday night, setting the tone for a busy festival with David Willetts, Richard Dawkins and Festival of the Spoken Nerd all on the same night.
First up was David Willetts MP, guest speaker for the annual Gareth Roberts Science Policy Lecture hosted by the Science Council. Following heavy demand for tickets, the lecture was relocated to the Royal Society of Medicine and there was a good turnout to hear the newly elected President of the Science Council Sir Tom Blundell. Professor Blundell gave a short introduction to the origins of the Science Council and the founding president, Sir Gareth Roberts, after whom this lecture is named, before introducing the guest lecturer for the evening, David Willetts.
A well-known figure in science policy since the last election, David Willetts is Conservative MP for Havant and the Minister for Universities and Science. Mr Willetts began his lecture with a slew of facts and figures about the positive state of scientific research, claiming the UK is punching well above its weight in terms of researchers, articles, citations and other measures. He suggested that openness had been a particularly important factor in the success of the UK, citing that almost 1/2 of UK articles published listed an overseas author, while 2/3 of UK researchers had an affiliation with an overseas institution.
The bulk of the lecture was a whistle-stop tour through some of the key issues in scientific research. On the topic of funding, Mr Willetts reported that while capital has not been ring-fenced, the Research Councils had been asked to put together a list of their top priorities and six of the eight items on that list have been funded, including the Diamond Synchrotron in Oxfordshire.
Science careers were predictably a hot topic, with a mention for the Science is Vital report which was delivered to the Minister last month. The Minister’s talk and questions afterwards discussed the careers pyramid, with less than 1/10 researchers who complete post-doc work ultimately reaching Professor, but there are a range of alternative careers in science. In a highlight of the evening, Mr Willetts declared his desire to see science technicians more recognised and announced a trial register for science technicians in partnership with a host of organisations: the Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institution of Chemical Engineers, the Institute of Food Science & Technology, the Association for Science Education, the Institute of Biomedical Science and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine.
Impact was a major theme, with Mr Willetts discussing a desire to measure impact without stifling research for research’s sake and taking into account different criteria for different fields. There is a concern that while the UK is fantastic at research, it is sometimes not fantastic at commercialising and making the most of that research and that will be taken into account when looking at impact, both pre-and post- research.
The tone of the lecture was upbeat and Mr Willetts concluded by assuring us that support for scientific research is strong both in the public view and within this coalition government, which Mr Willetts said is committed to promoting strong science teaching in universities, supporting pure and applied research and providing good careers for young researchers.
If you missed the event and are interested to hear Mr Willetts’ talk, a podcast was recorded and is available below – thanks to @Poddelusion.
You can also read the Storify we have put together from the event – comments and additional links welcome!