Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Birthdays and battle lines

Happy New Year!

This year promises to be an interesting one scientifically, not least in that the venerable institution, the Royal Society, celebrates its 350th birthday which is being marked with a year of events and activities. To start this off, Radio 4 and Melvyn Bragg presented an incisive and in-depth 4-part history of the Society, from its early days in Wadham College here in Oxford when the language had no term for the scientist and instead "natural philosophers" discussed ideas and witness early (and sometimes strange and/or barbaric sounding) experiments, to its present inception.

An interesting counterpoint perhaps can be observed in the travails of another old scientific society, the Royal Institution, and the removal of Susan Greenfield as its director. Away from the politics that appears to be accompanying this, there is an interesting post by Mark Henderson in the Times Online questioning the need for scientific popularisers and mediators between journalists and the researchers themselves.

It is a viable question: does someone who makes a career of explaining science really still have time to conduct research and keep abreast of current developments in their own specialist fields? But equally, can a journalist stay on top of everything from stem cells to quarks and therefore be able to interrogate each new scientific finding without having some kind of expert mediation to suggest the types of questions to pose?

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