The InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP), essentially a network of science academies around the world, met in January at the Royal Society in London to discuss how best to work with governments to tackle global problems. No small task, I am sure you agree,
New Scientists magazine also took advantage of all these scientific leaders being in one place at the same time to ask the 70 members from 62 academies a few questions. The results of this survey were published last week.
The survey short and asked the members to rate their confidence in world governments to tackle climate change through research, their view of the trust and understanding of people in their respective countries regarding science and scientists, and an open question asking them to list three issues that concern them most when looking ahead to 2020, both nationally and globally.
New Scientist gave the results (which themselves were not too surprising) an interesting perspective by comparing results from richer and poorer nations. There were a few interesting results – members from higher income nations were less optimistic about the chances of science solving the problem of climate change. They also had less confidence in how much the people in their countries trust scientists. Globally, climate change was named as the greatest challenge facing the world. There were some differences; a few more scientists from poorer nations cited water supply; a few more in richer countries the fight against terrorism.
It’s difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions from this short survey and this small cross section of scientists. But it is a good way to focus on the global challenges we face, and to think about different perspectives around the world.
Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society has written an editorial on the survey, highlighting global challenges and potential priority differences. But he finsihes by saying that dialogue is the answer, writing “…first of all we must enhance our dialogue with politicians and the wider world, and ensure that we sustain the public’s trust.”
I have just been reading about a rather dramatic method of helping scientists communicate.
Alan Alda, the Hollywood actor best known for his roles in MASH and the West Wing is giving scientists improvisation lessons.
At the Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, New York., Mr Alda has been helping graduate science students improve their communication skills through theatrical games and improvisation methods. The aim is not to run them into actors but to help them speak more openly and freely with the public. One student said that the course had made her “focus more on who I’m talking to and less on what I’m talking about…… and it becomes easier for them to follow my explanation and become excited by it”.
Read more and watch the man in action here.
This weekend will mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission. Anniversaries are always good opportunities for attracting attention and so hopefully we will all be discussing the wonders of space exploration over coffee this weekend.
One natural question over the years has been, “But what if it hadn’t worked?” The long-standing theory that the capsule with the frozen bodies of the astronauts would have floated off into space as an everlasting monument to the space mission has now been shown to be untrue.
An article in the Times newspaper this weekend reports how a team of experts in Philadelphia have carried out computer simulations to show that in fact – much less dramatically – the spacecraft and the (dead) astronauts would have been pulled in into the earth’s atmosphere by the moons gravity and incinerated after only 5 weeks.
There is little doubt though that the rescue of the Apollo 13 is one of NASAs finest moments and something to be wondered at still. Perhaps Mr Obama may be regretting cutting the manned space programme as he watches the anniversary coverage. (Or maybe not, the man has some tough decisions to make!).
If, like me, you know most of what you know about Apollo 13 form the film (released 1995 and starring Tom Hanks if you missed it), you may be surprised to know that those immortal words, “Houston, we have a problem” were misquoted by Mr Hanks, and were in fact “Houston, we’ve had a problem”. Not quite the same somehow…
And incidentally there are some amazing photos on the NASA site of the current mission’s space walks.
Every year there is an Easter Egg roll at the White House. Last year I blogged about the president introducing a science stand at this event, and I wondered whether it had made a reappearance this year.
I am pleased to say it did. For the second year running, the AAAS came with a science activity. This year it was The Science of Spring section where children could dissect, study and plant seeds. There was a kite making activity by the Lawrence Hall of Science and a couple of celebrity chefs talked about healthy food and cooking.
So good for you Mr Obama! It is great to see science taking a central role in a cultural event, alongside other activities including yoga, a smoothie bar, cooking, bee-keeping demonstrations, and egg-dying stations. And all on your front lawn! Maybe you can have a word with the other world leaders when you have a moment…..
Click here for the AAAS press release
Here is a good example of how to make science interesting using everyday themes. On Wednesday (St Patrick’s Day) I saw a link on the White House website no less to the following online article about how genetic mutations lead to some clovers having four, or possibly more, leaves.
I look at the White House science pages now and then to see what is going on over in the USA.
I am sorry to say it is often a little uninspiring but I thought this was an amusing link. Thank you Mr Obama!
The European Commission yesterday approved a genetically modified potato to be grown in the EU.
This is only the second GM product that has been allowed to be grown commercially here. The first, Monsanto’s MON 810 maize, was cleared back in 1998.
The potato is approved for industrial use only. It has been designed by the German company BASF for special properties of its starch.
There has of course been an outcry from environmentalists, as well as several MEPs and European leaders. However a statement from the Commission insisting that its decision was based on ”a considerable volume of sound science” sounded very confident, so perhaps we can look forward to a lively and evenly matched debate.
In past, voices expressing concern about the environment, biodiversity and cross-pollination have tended to be heard more than those focusing on developments which can reduce water and energy shortages and pesticide use, and in many poorer countries tackle some problems concerning malnutrition.
The news had not reached the front pages yet. I hope it will and that we see a proper informed debate about GM crops.
Read the full story at:
Cat owners are more likely to have a degree than dog owners, according to new research by the Department of Clinical Veterinary Science at Bristol University, UK.
Some headline writers have translated this as “Cat owners more intelligent than dog owners”.
As a goldfish owner myself, I will not take sides. But widely reported in the British press, the research has attracted a high volume of comments from the public.
These comments can be essentially summarised by the following:
Why have they done this pointless research?
Answer: The aim of the research was to find out about pet ownership in order for e.g. animal rescue organisations to plan effectively.
Why have we as tax payers paid for it?
Answer: we haven’t! The researcher is funded by the charity Cats Protection. Interestingly this fact was not mentioned in the press or on the charity’s website.
Why is having a degree relevant? It does not mean greater intelligence?
Answer: The researchers did not mention intelligence. The research was aiming to understand what sort of people own dogs and cats in the UK.
So although this headline attracts attention, the comments show many people have misunderstood the aims and conclusions of the study, and the article has not done much to enhance the reputation of researchers. Clearly a lot of people must support the charity Cats Protection if they can afford to fund research. Perhaps this aspect may have won more sympathy. I wonder why it was not mentioned…?
Link to the University of Bristol
Links to the media coverage:
The Royal Society celebrates its 350th anniversary this year. And it is inviting the whole of society – not just its elite scientists – to celebrate too. Here are just a few ways the RS is celebrating with the wider community….
No need to chase all the way down to London to hear a lecture about Newton! The RS is organising over 70 events across the UK celebrating local scientific heroes. For example, already running in Northern England
No flies on him: the multi talented Professor Newstead, zoologist, taxidermist and excavator of Roman Chester
Grosvenor Museum, Chester
Seeker in the Universe
Exhibition about local astronomer, Arthur Eddington
Kendal Museum, Cumbria
The RS is celebrating its anniversary by publishing 6 poems on the subject of science through “poetry on the underground”, where poems are printed on posters on the London underground trains.
Read them all at http://seefurther.org/assets/13/poems_on_the_underground.pdf
Access for all
The RS is putting 60 of its research papers on line for everyone to read, enjoy and study. Through its wonderful “trailblazing” page, you are guided through the last 350 years of scientific discovery with the original papers online for you to browse as well as more up to date explanations of some major events and milestones. There is for example a description of a 17th century blood transfusion, Newton’s showing white light is a mixture of other colours, and a 1970 paper on Black Holes by Stephen Hawking.
They have published a book called ”Seeing Further”, edited and introduced not by a top scientist but by Bill Bryson. About the RS and its history it feature contributions from a range of well-known authors and scientists such as Margaret Atwood and Richard Dawkins. I have ordered a copy so will be able to give my verdict in a week or two…
Read more about the RS at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/
Back in 1998, the media was dominated by the “news” that the MMR vaccine can cause bowel disease and autism.
The result was panic and a steep drop in the number of vaccinations and a dramatic rise in the incidence of measles.
The story has resurfaced numerous times over the years with each new “development” generally making the front pages.
So it was with some surprise whilst browsing the BBC news website, I found tucked away in the Health news section, a short article announcing the Lancet (who originally published the paper) has finally accepted the research findings to be false.
Finally? Has it taken this generally esteemed journal all this time to reach this decision? And I see they are not trumpeting this particular news story from the roof tops.
It seems “Scare story not true” is not a headline thought to be of much interest to the public.
It is forty years since the first moon landing, and over here in the UK, we are being treated to a whole host of programmes, articles and interviews about that great event forty years ago.
And one debate that is heating up this week is whether we should be sending more people into space. British Astronaut Helen Sharman has given a rare interview in this week´s Daily Telegraph in which she calls for the government to start funding human space travel again. Dr Sharman accuses the government of being too interested in short term gains. She describes how everyone from tiny children to pensioners are fascinated by space travel, and how seeing more manned space travel would inspire Britons to be interested in science, and to be proud of what we can achieve scientifically and technologically.
I think she is right – the public excitement and interest that manned space travel inspires is incredible and must surely justify the (admittedly huge) cost to the taxpayer. A colleague of mine, who must now be nearly 60, once told me how disappointing it was that the future he’d anticipated as a boy had never materialised. He had imagined by the time he was grown up we would all be living in space and zooming around in rockets. The moon landings however did inspire him to become a physicist. Otherwise (he jokes) he may have ended up as an accountant!
But perhaps in today´s political climate, the focus should be on the European Space Agency. A EU-crew could also create a feeling of EU solidarity that the politicians are all striving for…..
Link to the article: