Archive by date | March 2010

UK budget: green cash but no long-term science clarity

In today’s 2010-2011 budget, the UK government announced a £2 billion fund to promote low-carbon technologies, and £270 million to create 20,000 new university places, focusing on science and engineering. But this support, with its explicit recognition for the importance of research, has failed to clear up continuing confusion about the extent of funding cuts awaiting science and higher education.

‘Terms of engagement’ between scientists and governments released

Government science advisors have escaped being forced to reach a “shared position” with ministers, but a provision that they should “not act to undermine mutual trust” has remained in new guidelines.

The ‘Principles of Scientific Advice to Government’ come in the wake of the huge row over the sacking of drugs advisor David Nutt (see past coverage) and widespread unease in the scientific community about the relationship between supposedly independent researchers and the government.

An early draft proved unpopular for suggesting that advisors and minister should “reach a shared position” and the government has removed this as previously announced (see: Concessions over science advice principles).

The final draft released today enshrines academic freedom and the right of advisors to publish and present their research. But it also states, “Government and its scientific advisers should not act to undermine mutual trust.”

On Nature News

Nanoparticle kit could diagnose disease early

Colour change shows the presence of minuscule amounts of key enzymes.

China boosts African research links

Expanded programme of academic collaboration promised.

Teams set for first taste of Antarctic lakes

Samples could reveal unique life forms from beneath the ice.

US health bill promises changes for biomedical researchers

Translational work set to receive a boost.

Quotes of the day

“The last thousand years have witnessed dramatic increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food. We think that as art imitates life, these changes have been reflected in paintings of history’s most famous dinner.”

Brian Wansink, of Cornell University, says depictions of portion sizes in paintings of the last supper have grown over time (BBC).

“There have been horrific examples where scientists are being sued for alleged defamation…ending libel tourism is very important.”

UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw backs calls for libel reform (Press Gazette).

“The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program.”

Burt Rutan, of Scaled Composites, comments on the first test flight of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise craft, carried below a plane (CNN).

New ‘climate-gate’ inquiry head already under fire

Yesterday the University of East Anglia announced the members of a review panel that would be investigating the scientific papers produced by its Climatic Research Unit, in the wake of the ‘climate-gate’ email theft.

Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, noted approvingly that the panel headed by Lord Oxburgh was made up of “high-quality” individuals of authority and integrity.

“We will now see predictable attempts by so-called ‘sceptics’ to discredit the panel before it has even started work so that its findings can be conveniently dismissed unless it hands a propaganda goal to those who promote denial and complacency about the causes and consequences of climate change,” he added.

And so it came to pass…

“Commenters are also noting the background of Ron Oxburgh, the chairman of the RS panel. Lord Oxburgh is:

• President of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association

• Chairman of wind energy firm Falck Renewables

• A member of the Green Fiscal Commission

So we have a chairman with a direct financial interest in the outcome. I’m not sure this is a surprise.”

Bishop Hill

“The man could scarcely be more parti pris if they’d given the job to Al Gore. … So the chairman of this “independent panel” has a direct financial interest in the outcome.”

– James Delingpole, The Daily Telegraph

“Climate sceptics questioned whether Lord Oxburgh, chairman of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and the wind energy company Falck Renewables, was truly independent because he led organisations that depended on climate change being seen as an urgent problem.”

The Times