The Case Diary includes the latest information on our activites. The Diary archive, available via the links on the left, includes diary entries as well as all the information from our What's New section.
26/10/04 Science across Government
SBS today warned that the publication of two reports in two days showed signs that the research community was being let down by central Government. Reports about science in the Department for International Development and in Research Councils UK highlight substantial problems with the way science is handled in Government.
25/10/05 Research Councils UK
SBS today welcomed the publication of the Office of Science & Technology's review of RCUK. While the review found some strong aspects of RCUK's work, it also identified significant room for improvement.
"RCUK was invented a few years ago, and of course, like all new bodies, it costs money; money for science is always tight, so the science community needs to know that it is getting value for money," said Dr Peter Cotgreave. "Many people don't really know what RCUK is for, and now that seems to have been confirmed review has found that "clear objectives were not laid down" when it was set up.
"Now it seems it's not clear who the chair should be, it's not clear who's accountable for what, and it isn't even handling "essential" administration properly. With the research community delivering huge value for the money it gets, and the Research Councils having a long-standing reputation for being well run, it is unnacceptable that this picture is emerging of RCUK as a fly in the ointment".
21/10/04Assessment of Britain's scientific health
SBS today published a snapshot reassessment of its Five Scientific Tests for the scientific health of the UK, and found that none of the tests has yet been met. The tests measure public investment in research; the state of scientific careers; educational opportunity; private investment in research; and government use of scientific advice. "We did a big assessment when we published the tests two years ago," said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS, "and today we have published a quick snapshot to see if there has been substantial movement towards meeting our tests. Unfortunately, it remains true that none of the tests has been met. This is clear evidence that there is a long way to go before British science can deliver its full potential."
14/10/04 Science and the culture department
SBS today expressed fury - but not surprise - that a review of science in the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) had revealed serious shortcomings in the Department's handling of science and technology.
"This proves what we've been saying for ages - the DCMS has been dragging its feet about simple things, and ignoring the importance of science," said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS.
14/10/04 Retaining the best people in the science base
SBS today highlighted the problems of universities not having enough unencumbered funds to attract and retain the best brains. In an article in the Institute of Physics magazine Interactions, SBS points out the British institutions are struggling to compete for the best researchers in the fierce global competition for talent.
"Top scientists in the US have none of these worries, partly because US universities enjoy large private endowments of unencumbered funds. Similarly British universities must build up larger incomes that the government cannot poke its nose into," says the article.
13/10/04 Teaching qualifications
SBS today expressed exasperation with the Government's attitudes to insisting on petty bureaucracy before excellent science teachers are allowed to work in the state sector. "All the evidence appears to be that Tristam Jones-Parry and Professor David Wolfe are excellent teachers of maths and physics," said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS, "and the education minister, David Miliband, is going around demanding they sit exams and fill in forms, while up and down the country, thousands of pupils are being short-changed because they have no maths teacher or no physics teacher".
"David Wolfe, who is a professor of physics, has been told to sit GCSE maths. What a petty waste of time and effort. As a taxpayer, let alone in my role at SBS, I am furious with David Miliband for putting barriers in his way, and not spending all of his effort on the bigger problem of how to get more good physics and maths teachers."
07/10/04 Academic freedom
SBS today highlighted the problems of too much Government interference in the priorities of the science budget. In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, SBS points out that as well as dictating central targets regarding teaching, ministers and officials are increasingly specifying the scientific questions that university scientists must address. The text of the letter is as follows:
The plea by a senior Oxford academic for the government to "get your tanks off our lawn" (Daily Telegraph, Oct 6) could be widened to include central intereference in universities' research as well as their teaching. Ministers are to be congratulated for increasing the budgets of the Research Councils, but unfortunately, they have attached strings and conditions to the funding that risk diminishing the impact of the new investment. Pots of money are 'ring-fenced' for the government's pet projects, rather than being available for the scientific community to apply to the most interesting, exciting and potentially fruitful scientific questions. For example, last year officials published a list of questions that the Research Councils must study over the next few years, including "What does it mean to be a citizen of an expanding European Community?" If that question has important policy implications, it should be funded by the Foreign Office, not by changing the principles on which science funding has traditionally been administered. I doubt whether anyone ever won a Nobel Prize by ignoring his or her own sense of what was important in their field and turning instead to a list of subjects dictated from Whitehall.
06/10/04 Maurice Wilkins
SBS today expressed its sadness at the death of Professor Maurice Wilkins, who had served on SBS's Advisory Council for many years. "Maurice Wilkins was an example of why British science is worth saving," said Dr Peter Cotgreave, Director of SBS, "he won a Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, but he made many other very significant contributions to science."
01/10/04Science in Schools
SBS today highlighted the confusion over science exams in schools, by pointing out that policy is being made without any clear explanation of what exams are actually for. "What is the point of constantly debating whether exams are harder or easier than they used to be when today's crop of 18-year olds willl never be judged directly against their parents' generation?" asks an article in Innovation Policy Review.
This year saw a 6.5% fall in the number of 18-year olds sitting A-level science, but for the first time in years, there were noticeable increases in the numbers of 16-year olds doing science subjects at GCSE. With such a mixed set of evidence, argues the article, it is difficult to draw substantive conclusions, but as a nation, we do not yet seem to be ready for a coherent discussion, with a clear idea of why we have all these tests in the first place.