105 science academies release joint statement ahead of Rio summit

Population growth and global consumption must be addressed urgently, says the IAP, the body representing the world’s 105 scientific academies. In a rare joint statement signed by all 105 bodies, scientists across the globe call for “urgent and coordinated action” to address “two of the most profound challenges to humanity”.

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An Olympic Molecule

Researchers have synthesised Olympicene, a new molecule in the shape of the Olympic Rings.

When scientists at the Royal Society in London met to discuss how best to mark the London 2012 Olympic games, Professor Graham Richards had the idea to create an Olympic themed molecule.

Easier said than done. And almost as difficult to take a photo of the molecule once created.

University of Warwick researchers Anish Mistry and David Fox came up with synthesis and went on to take images of the molecule using non-contact atomic force microscopy. At just 1.2nm wide, it has been dubbed “the smallest logo in the world”.

Fascinating chemistry – but is it useful?

Perhaps, but the man behind it all said he hoped its greatest use would be inspire young people to study chemistry.

“”Molecules of this nature could conceivably have commercial use, but my own feeling is that above all we want to excite an interest in chemistry provoked by the link with the Olympics,” said Professor Richards.

Read more and see the pictures at the links below:


Daily Mail

Huffington Post

Warwick University

Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net.

A busy week for “Open Access”

There has been a lot happening in the fight for open access in recent weeks.

The Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest research funding bodies, has announced it will soon be launching a scientific journal eLife, which will compete with the most elite publications such as Nature and Science. The trust has also said it will “adopt a robust approach” to scientists it funds who do not publish their work in an open access journal within 6 months. Failure to publish through open access will mean they will not receive funding in the future.

In the USA, which lags behind Europe in Open Access, a White House petition has been set up for people to sign. Anyone can sign, including non-US citizens (you can sign it here!). Although a petition does not sounds like much, the President is known to be sympathetic to Open Access and the White House has been looking into it for some time. So signs are hopeful.

In an surprising and lengthy speech to the Publishers Association in London this week, the UK minister for Universities and Science David Willets made the UK government’s position clear. He declared that “Wider Access is the Way forward” and that he hoped it would “…bring science and research closer to the public”.

And in Brussels, Open Access is set “to be the norm” for the Horizon 2020 programme with a budget of €80 billion.

So the future is looking rosy for Open Access. An article in the Economist a few weeks ago put some numbers on what publishing costs universities: an annual subscription to the chemistry journal Tetrahedron costs $20,269; the Journal of Mathematical Sciences costs $20,100. It compares this to the enormous profits of publishers, saying that the situation is absurd.

That research funded by public and charitable funds should be freely available to all seems to be the widely accepted view (except perhaps by the publishers). With more and more weighty funding bodies behind Open Access, it looks like free and unrestricted access to research will become “the norm” before much longer.

Photo courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Mock funeral for Science

 A dramatic protest by scientists was staged in Westminster, London on Tuesday. At a mock Victorian funeral over 100 scientists, mainly organic chemists, carried a coffin with floral wreaths spelling out “SCIENCE”.  The coffin contained a petition against science budget cuts, which they then delivered to the Prime Minister’s residence. Twenty-five scientists also held early morning meetings with their MPs before parliament opened.

With the threat of cuts to funding increasing, scientists  are increasingly finding their voice. This protest follows on from the 2010 Science is Vital campaign where thousands of scientists successfully campaigned against budget cuts. This current tide of anger amongst scientists is again being displayed in a very theatrical way (the funeral) but also in a more constructive way – through dialogue with MPs.

The protests are against science funding policy in the UK, with protesters concerned about the erosion of blue-skies research. The group Science for the Future has the support of nine Nobel Laureates. One complaint is against the requirement for applicants to predict in advance the benefits of their research. Policies like this would certainly not have led to the discovery of lasers or penicillin, argue the protesters. For more information see the links below:

Article in the Guardian

Letter from Nobel Laureates

Science is Vital

EPSRC statement

Oklahoma rejects anti-science bill

Many news articles and blog posts (including on the VA blog) are written about the rise of creationism in American schools. It was therefore heart-warming to read the headline “Oklamhama Anti-Science Legislation Fails again”.

Two anti-science bills which set out to encourage teachers to present “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as evolution and climate change have already failed at the committee stage. This amendment, which was an attempt to delay the purchase of text books and teaching materials, has also failed. Coordinating the resistance was Oklamhomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), a non-profit grassroots organisation. As well as campaigning for high quality science teaching and arguing against intelligent design and creationism, OESE also runs a Clergy Letter project. Clergy are invited to sign a letter of support for the teaching of evolution at www.theclergyletterproject.org. Their aim is to address the perception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict over the teaching of evolution.

Oklahoma State is part of the Bible belt, politically conservative and well known for its Christianity and evangelism. This is a most encouraging story, though it has not grabbed the headlines as much as more dramatic bad-news stories of an anti-science state.