Let me congratulate those who have received the awards just presented—these medal-winners exemplify the scientific excellence that the Society promotes and celebrates. It would be interesting to know what brought them into science. I'd hazard a guess that it was some childhood influence—probably an inspiring teacher. Indeed, the government's advertising campaign some years ago, ‘Thank a teacher’, resonated with many of us.
Many pupils today never encounter an expert and enthusiastic science teacher. Too few new specialist teachers are joining the profession, especially in physics and maths, to replace those now retiring. Until a few years ago, the Royal Society wasn't much involved with pre-university education. But it now concerns us greatly. We've convened a group with the acronym SCORE (for science community partnership supporting education), chaired by Sir Alan Wilson, to coordinate views from the main learned societies—physics, chemistry and biosciences. This initiative follows the successful precedent of ACME (the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education), a committee established five years ago to act as a single voice for the mathematical community. We hope these Royal Society initiatives will lead to more effective input into education policy.
To meet the government's targets of increasing the percentage of teachers qualified to teach physics, newly recruited physics graduates won't be enough. Supplementary measures are needed. Biology teachers can be given extra expertise in physics. Mature professionals should be encouraged to consider a move into teaching from a career in research, industry or the armed forces. Also, more can be done to encourage scientists based in universities to spend time in schools and vice versa.
Very young children have a natural interest in science—whether focused on space, dinosaurs or tadpoles. But we're not so good at converting youthful enthusiasms into sustained engagement with science in the 11–16 age range.
This is especially serious here in England. In our unduly specialized education system, those who are turned off science by 16 years of age will drop it. They thereby foreclose most options of studying it at university.
Practical work in school laboratories is not always adequate—at least according to the hard-hitting recent report of the House of Lords Select Committee. We would also like pupils to have more chance to do some sort of genuine scientific investigation or fieldwork.
It is surprising, however, how little is agreed about what teaching methods are most effective. As a specific contribution, the Royal Society plans to set up some new fellowships for educational research, with similar status to our URFs (University Research Fellows—the Society's flagship programme supporting 300 of tomorrow's leaders in science). This is one way in which modest resources, backed by the expertise and standing of the Society, could make a distinctive difference.
Schools should not just focus on the education of would-be professionals. Also of concern is the low educational and skill level of too many disadvantaged pupils—and, even worse, their low ambitions.
But there's another reason for emphasizing basic scientific literacy. Today's young people will grow up in a world where ever more political choices—on energy, environment, medicine and bioethics—have a scientific dimension. For an informed public debate, everyone needs at least some feel for science—some engagement with its concepts. We welcome the commitment of Ian Pearson, the new science minister, to the encouragement of public engagement with science—something to which the Royal Society is itself strongly committed.
(As a parenthetical note, let me mention the Royal Society's study on university education beyond 2015, to be published next month. Our earlier report, A degree of concern, clarified the numbers of graduates in various subjects. The ‘headline figures’ show, for example, that the numbers reading ‘biological sciences’ have risen sharply. But only about 4000 a year graduate in straight ‘biology’. Much the largest subject in the ‘biological sciences’ group is psychology (around 11 000 per year); the second largest, with over 5000 graduates a year, is sports science.)
The demarcations between government departments were altered after the July reshuffle; there is now a separate schools ministry, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), with responsibility for teachers and curriculum. The changes do, however, bring under another single ministry, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), three domains of special interest to the Society: higher education, the research councils, and the Chief Scientific Advisor's office. We have established good contacts with John Denham and his ministerial team.
Incidentally, a casualty of the revamping of ministries has been the Select Committee on Science and Technology. This committee has produced some excellent reports; its respected chair, Phil Willis has become a good friend of the Society's. The Committee's remit spanned many departments, and it was able to accommodate this breadth. It would be a real loss if, in its new downgraded status of subcommittee, it were unable to maintain an effective role—such wide-ranging matters should not be left to the House of Lords committee, excellent though that is.
The Comprehensive Spending Review settlement gave the Research Councils, overall, an annual increase of about 2.7% in real terms—a more generous deal than most parts of government received. But the move towards covering full economic costs eroded this, so it's not clear that volume can be maintained. And the new Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) starts life with a legacy of overcommitment, with potentially serious consequences that we are watching closely.
A second funding stream for university research comes via the Higher Education Funding Councils. Our American colleagues are bemused by this ‘dual support system’. I tell them that, for all our gripes about the Research Assessment Exercise, it is better than the US system, where professors must hustle for grants to meet even basic academic needs. I'll say no more about the Research Assessment Exercise—a much over-discussed topic in all university common rooms—except to note that a group chaired by Adrian Smith will be guiding the Society's views on what should replace it after 2008.
Whatever the funding system is, it must avoid introducing perverse incentives. Up till now, there has, for instance, been a disincentive for applied work, and for popular writing and outreach.
We know that a few universities attract the lion's share of research funding—from all sources. That's likely to be true whatever system prevails. But despite the trend towards concentration, there's at least one top-rated department in more than 50 of our universities. I think it's crucial to retain a system that allows excellence to sprout and bloom anywhere in the university system.
Let me give an example. Leicester University is world-class in genetics and in space science. That wasn't planned. Enterprising young researchers in these two fields happened to have jobs there, and the system that prevailed in the 1970s allowed them to build up major research groups. And Sir Philip Cohen, who played a key role in developing the acclaimed biomedical excellence of Dundee, is on record as saying that he would have had more difficulties were he starting today.
Of course the healthiest situation is one where funding is not only more generous but also comes from a variety of sources—public and private—allocated by different criteria. The USA benefits from a far stronger tradition of private funding. In this country there is substantial non-governmental funding of biomedical research—above all from the Wellcome Trust—but the physical sciences are more dependent on public funding. The Society itself makes a modest contribution, which we hope gradually to enlarge.
I've so far focused parochially on the UK—and on a modest time horizon. All universities—both their teaching and their research—will need to change if we are to exploit new technologies. People everywhere in the world will be immersed in a cyberspace that is ever more information-rich and sophisticated. Scientists anywhere—including skilled amateurs—will be able to download from a ‘virtual observatory’, or from a library of genome data.
And the sociology of research is changing. There are more collaborative papers (many with overseas authors); many of us use large facilities (such as the recently opened Diamond Light Source facility). Enhanced computer power is transforming how we do our science. We can handle huge volumes of data. Scientists can do ‘numerical experiments’ where they cannot do real experiments, and address questions such as: What do pollutants do to the world's climate? How do financial markets react to various externalities? And so forth. As an astronomer, I can crash stars and galaxies together in a ‘virtual universe’ in a computer. The map of learning is itself changing as knowledge expands; developments are often fastest on the interfaces between traditional subjects.
But whatever happens, one thing is surely clear. If the UK is to maintain a leading role in science, it needs enough of the right people.
Science must attract a good share of the talented entrants to universities. But that is not enough. It also matters where those who are well educated in science end up. Even if the educational pathways are open and smooth, scientific careers won't attract young people unless they have a positive perception of the profession. Most Fellows feel, I'm sure, that academia, public service or private industry has offered them challenging opportunities. It's crucial that enough of tomorrow's scientists, medics and engineers should feel the same way. Otherwise this country won't play its part in meeting the great twenty-first-century challenges.
In my Cambridge college I asked a group of final-year engineering students what their career plans were. Only one was going to be an engineer—the rest were heading for the city or management consultancy.
It's fine that some take those paths (provided, at least, that they don't think they're thereby getting closer to the ‘real world’!). But isn't the overwhelming flight of talent from manufacturing a cause for concern? Anecdotal accounts suggest that many large companies don't offer the real ‘high flyers’ enough scope, early on, to make a mark, show initiative, and achieve a financial premium, to the extent that the financial sector does. The solution lies in the hands of the senior management—and of bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry.
It's a special worry that too few of the very best young people schooled in this country are now committing themselves to academic or research careers. We're fortunate in the UK to have high research productivity and several universities in the premier league. But this good fortune would be threatened if staff quality were not sustained.
American universities maintain an ascendancy by draining talent from poorer countries. We in the UK are also making more academic appointments from abroad. That's welcome in itself—indeed, we should strive for a brain gain to match that of the USA. But it's precarious to be too dependent on potentially transient staff. (The situation is, incidentally, worse in economics than in almost any science subject.)
Academic pay will never make us rich, but to stem the internal brain drain into other career paths it should surely keep pace with the public service. And we should resist the erosion of the distinctive features of academic life that compensate us for modest pay: relative autonomy, and the prospect, without undue hassle, of competing for basic funding for the research one chooses to do. And that choice is anything but frivolous—for most academic scientists, it's a judgement on which they stake much of their working life, and their reputation. Access to ‘responsive mode’ funding is as important as adequate salaries for maintaining the attractiveness of academia—and therefore the quality of our universities.
In that connection, we should be uneasy at the mooted introduction of ‘economic benefit’ as a criterion in the assessment of research grant applications. There is indeed a case for favouring some areas of research on broad strategic grounds—genomics or nanophysics rather than string theory, for example. But that's different from trying to assess economic payoff at the level of a single grant application.
Even the wizards of venture capital are highly fallible when they try to pick discoveries with commercial potential. To expect the average grants committee to make any worthwhile judgement—and, moreover, to do this at the ‘proposal’ stage, before the work has even been done—seems worse than unrealistic.
None of the leading universities—in the UK or in the USA—are primarily ‘applied’ institutions: they excel at ‘curiosity-driven’ research. In the USA, Harvard and Stanford are regarded as major national assets because of their attraction for international talent, the collective expertise of their faculty, and the consequent quality of the graduates they feed into all walks of life. But each is embedded in a ‘cluster’ of research laboratories, small companies, non-governmental organizations, and so forth—to symbiotic benefit.
The same is true here in the UK. Indeed, a recent report showed that the scale and success of such clusters was amazingly steeply correlated with the research strength of the embedded university.
In the clusters that great universities attract around them, talent attracts talent (and big companies too). Success breeds success—and, just as importantly, failure is accepted as a step towards later success: a dynamic and interactive community develops that offers, in the words of a Financial Times article, a ‘low risk place to do high risk things’. The most effective knowledge transfer is via the movement of people.
These phenomena featured in Lord Sainsbury's recent report on innovation, entitled The race to the top. His theme was that the UK can never compete on costs but only by leading the race towards greater sophistication—higher ‘value added’. This country's future is bleak unless we can compete at the top end of the value chain.
Competition now comes not just from the USA and Europe, but from the burgeoning Far East, where the world's scientific talent and intellectual capital will surely become increasingly concentrated.
The current strength of UK universities gives us a head start that we must sustain, despite growing competition. If they remain competitive, we can make this country a ‘partner of choice’ for global science and innovation—a magnet for mobile talent and inward investment. (Although the analogy is imperfect, there are similarities to the way in which the injection of sufficient resources allowed London to surge ahead as a global financial centre.)
We don't know what the twenty-first-century counterparts of the electron, quantum theory, the double helix and the computer will be—nor where the great innovators of the future will get their formative training and inspiration. But it's not wishful thinking that the twenty-first century will be influenced by the creative ideas that germinate in these small islands.
There is much debate on how well the UK is doing in the innovation stakes. The crude figures show that R&D is concentrated in a few areas such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace—and in the larger companies. But there is obviously a lot of innovative thinking in finance and other service sectors, which is not captured in the existing R&D statistics. I'd like to advertise the Royal Society's project on innovation in the services sector, which is just getting underway and which aims to seek other ways of assessing how well we're doing at turning science into impact.
Many short-sighted decisions were made, and many opportunities lost, in the 1970s and 1980s—the collapse of our electronics industry was one consequence. The present government has gratifyingly learnt a key lesson: investment needs to be sustained. If we can be one of the best countries in the world in which to do science, benign positive feedbacks come into play; the law of increasing returns applies.
Universities are a source of independent expertise—of people who can recognize a new idea from anywhere in the world and run with it. This may sometimes lead to commercial profit. But there's an ever-growing need for them to engage with public policy issues. The benefits of science are broader than ‘wealth creation’: they encompass our entire quality of life. Scientists must strengthen their engagement with the global challenges that will confront us all in the coming decades. Here again we in the UK have opportunities to be seized.
Long-term global issues
High on the agenda should be the challenge of clean energy and the replacement of fossil fuels.
The Energy Technology Institute has now been established; the Prime Minister recently announced backing for the first commercial-scale project for carbon capture and storage. These are welcome developments. But they are nowhere near the level that the challenge demands.
Nothing could do more to attract the brightest and best into science than a strongly proclaimed commitment, from all technologically developed nations, to provide clean and sustainable energy for the developing and the developed world—to ensure security, diversity and efficiency of supply. Why shouldn't the UK take a lead?
Energy R&D in this country has barely crept back up to the level attained in 1989 (before it plummeted after the privatizations). Some of the most exciting technologies are too far from the market to attract private funding. One of these, nuclear fusion, is funded at a global level of around 2 billion US dollars per year—a prudent investment for the world, even given the uncertainty and the several decades before a commercial pay-off. Indeed, there is a case for boosting the expenditure to bring pay-back closer. But if we take the expenditure on fusion as a ‘calibration’, there should be much-expanded R&D into a whole raft of techniques for storing energy and generating it by ‘clean’ or low-carbon methods.
This is one of several themes on which the Society can campaign jointly with the Royal Academy of Engineering, and with its new President, Lord Browne. It is excellent that they have moved to 3–4 Carlton House Terrace, almost next door. (I have to say ‘almost’ because the Turf Club, at number 5, is interposed between us!)
Climate and biosphere
The fourth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published this year. The Society held an excellent discussion meeting in March on the scientific issues. Any open-minded enquirer who really wanted to understand the current consensus, and what the uncertainties are, could not have done better than to attend the lively debates at this meeting.
The compelling strength of the IPCC's conclusions has turned around the perception of climate change. Most major financial institutions and businesses now realize that the issue is important for them. And governments are mindful that changes in climatic patterns—especially in the developing world—could aggravate possible conflicts by impacting on water resources, crop growth, and so forth.
There is far more science to be done: the predicted global temperature rises are of course just an ‘index’ of large-scale changes in climatic patterns, and we need more detailed modelling (and more computer power) to assess the regional impacts on rainfall and extreme weather. But the debate now encompasses wider—and even more intractable—issues: the economics, the technological projections, and the politics. We must hope for substantive progress at Bali [where the next meeting of the states party to the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was held] next week. Our own government's recently published Climate Change Bill addresses the challenge of cutting UK emissions by at least 60% by 2050.
General ecological concerns are rising on the public agenda; most people are aware of how human actions threaten to ravage the entire biosphere. There have been five great extinctions in the geological past. We are now causing a sixth. We are destroying the book of life before we've read it.
Biodiversity is a crucial component of human wellbeing and economic growth: we're clearly harmed if fish stocks dwindle to extinction; there are plants in the rain forest whose gene pool might be useful to us. But these ‘instrumental’—and anthropocentric—arguments aren't the only compelling ones. For many of us, preserving the richness of our biosphere has value in its own right, over and above what it means to us humans.
Maintaining the health of our ecosystem is also a vital element in maintaining the health of our climate. Jointly with the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and others (the UK Department for International Development; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Met Office Hadley Centre, UK; and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)), the Royal Society is therefore running a workshop at Bali next week to highlight the need for international policy-makers to tackle biodiversity and climate change as parts of an interconnected whole.
What actually happens in the rest of the century will depend on developments even more imponderable than the climate science: new technology, future lifestyle, and the demands made on energy and raw materials—and of course on world population. Barring catastrophe, this will reach around 9 billion by 2050, but thereafter it could level off—and even start to decline—if the social trends that have led to reduced fertility in the more developed countries were to extend worldwide.
Potential catastrophic risks
Quite apart from the threats to the biosphere, we shall face, in our ever more interconnected world, risks of an unfamiliar kind: pandemics, ‘bioerror’, ‘bioterror’, and cyber risks stemming from the vulnerability of vast networks. Such catastrophes may be unlikely, but their consequences could be so widespread that even a low probability is deeply disquieting.
We are familiar with the hazards of twentieth-century life, whether human-induced or natural. But what we should worry most about in the twenty-first century may be events that have never happened yet but where even one occurrence could stress our intermeshed civilization to breaking point.
How can we assess these risks and—even more crucially—minimize their likelihood and mitigate their impact? This is surely a challenge that scientists should try to meet. They should collaborate worldwide to ensure that the best expertise is deployed; they can work nationally to advise governments. The difficulty of mustering support for effective mitigation of climate change stems from the remote-seeming and diffuse nature of the threat. It is even more difficult to divert resources from short-term needs and commit them to preparing for, or trying to avert, a disaster that may never happen at all. But careful analysis may suggest that substantial expenditure would be prudent as an ‘insurance policy’ even for an unlikely event.
The Royal Society, and its sister academies, should surely do all they can to enhance understanding of these risks and press for appropriate action. Avian flu is a current example where this is being done, even if not with the urgency that this intractable international problem demands.
Some scientific frontiers
I have so far discussed issues of policy and politics, rather than science and technology themselves. But let me now briefly mention two ‘frontier’ scientific fields.
For astronomers in this country, 2007 offered an event worthy of acclaim: the 50th anniversary of the giant radio telescope at Jodrell Bank. It's now called the Lovell Telescope, and Sir Bernard was there to celebrate the instrument that he had the vision and persistence to build. It is an iconic structure—as much a part of our national heritage as Stonehenge—but at the same time it is still doing amazing science, of a kind that couldn't even have been conceived of when it was built.
The Lovell Telescope has made many discoveries about pulsars—extraordinary objects discovered 40 years ago by Tony Hewish and Jocelyn Bell Burnell. These are neutron stars, spinning at up to 700 revolutions per second. Michael Kramer and his colleagues are now using the telescope for even more remarkable observations. A pair of pulsars have been found, orbiting around each other with a two-hour period. In this tightly bound system, relativistic effects, minuscule in the orbit of Mercury, are far more substantial. By timing the pulses from these little stars with microsecond precision, and thereby inferring how the orbits are changing, Einstein's general relativity can been tested more exactly than ever before.
Actually, there was a double golden anniversary this year. It was on 5 October 1957 that Sputnik 1 was launched into orbit. The Jodrell Bank telescope was finished just soon enough to be able to track it.
After Sputnik, the space race—fuelled largely, of course, by superpower rivalry—proceeded apace. Only 12 years later, Neil Armstrong took his ‘one small step’ on the Moon. But the Apollo project was an end in itself—there was no imperative to maintain the momentum, and it's been 35 years since the last men walked on the Moon. To young people today, it's ancient history—they know that the Americans went to the Moon, just as they know that the Egyptians built the Pyramids; but the motives seem almost as arcane in the one case as the other. Manned spaceflight—via the Shuttle and the Space Station, has never recovered the same glamour. However, there have been immense developments in the unmanned programmes of many spacefaring nations. We depend on space technology for communications, weather forecasting, mapping, position-finding and so forth—quite apart from the science it has given us.
The largest space programmes are those of the USA and Russia—legacies of superpower rivalry. But there are great opportunities for Europe, and we in the UK could do more. Everyone has heard of NASA, many have heard of the European Space Agency, but few have heard of BNSC (the British National Space Centre). The UK has a cost-effective programme, but it needs higher-profile coordination. The Royal Society has therefore urged a higher-profile UK space agency so that we can exploit European opportunities better and can promote and develop the UK's success in space science and in the commercial arena.
Stem cells and synthetic biology
And now for some quite different science, where I can claim no special expertise at all: stem cells and synthetic biology. We congratulate Sir Martin Evans on his Nobel Prize (shared with our Foreign Member Oliver Smithies) for pioneering work on stem cells. These have exciting potential for human health but raise novel and perplexing ethical issues. Traditional categories are being transcended: we can't clearly say whether an assemblage of cells is an embryo—still less whether it is human. Stem cell research is still in its early stages, but could offer potential benefit for diseases such as motor neuron disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
In December 2006, the government announced an intention to ban some strands of research in this field. But the Royal Society, through discussion and consultations, has helped to change ministers' minds, as reflected in new proposals announced in October. We are pleased that the government responded to the advocacy of scientists. The new recommendations are incorporated in the wide-ranging Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The Society's concern is that Parliament should approve the clauses relating to cytoplasmic hybrid embryos. During the passage of the Bill through both houses, we shall work with other organizations to promote discussion among parliamentarians and respond to their scientific queries.
Stem cell legislation is a topical instance of the Society's important role in informing public discussion and debate. This role is wide-ranging. We remain engaged, for instance, with nanotechnology: we have followed up our widely acclaimed earlier report by initiating a dialogue with businesses concerned about the potential risks.
Another potentially contentious growth area will be synthetic biology. This is the kind of new and exciting field that needs long-term support and investment. The scientific running will be made by those in a research environment where they can plan for the long term. Craig Venter may not be a model to emulate in all respects, but in vision and ambition he is.
Synthetic biology, like nanotechnology, is somewhat ‘fuzzy’ in terms of its actual scope and definition. However, it also raises concerns about how the benefits are to be maximized and the potential downsides avoided. The Royal Society recently issued a call for views on the social, scientific and ethical issues that need to be addressed. We were gratified by the responses from policymakers, funders, non-governmental organizations and individual scientists and ethicists. Now we will move forward with a Working Group, and a ‘fast track’ Discussion Meeting on synthetic biology in the spring of 2008.
Activities of the Royal Society
There is a manifest global dimension to many of the gravest issues we address: climate change, preserving biodiversity and controlling pandemics. The Society's international activities are consequently growing in range and in significance.
In 2005, when the UK held the G8 presidency, the Royal Society took the lead in setting up a meeting of academies before the Gleneagles summit. This has now become an annual tradition. It is gratifying in itself that the academies can achieve a consensus on non-platitudinous statements. But of course what matters is that our recommendations feed effectively into the actual decision-making. That plainly happened at Gleneagles; and this year, when Germany held the presidency, the G8+5 academies had a special meeting with Chancellor Merkel. We look forward to building on this experience when Japan holds the G8 presidency next year.
We have also worked with the InterAcademy Panel on international issues (IAP) (in which we are now on the Executive Committee) and with the InterAcademy Council (IAC). The latter's recent report, Lighting the way: toward a sustainable energy future, is an especially valuable document.
We have maintained our engagement with African academies, and have launched a special funding scheme with Ghana and Tanzania. The Royal Society Pfizer Award was presented to Dr Hiba Mohammed at a high-profile event last month. Her work on leishmaniasis in Sudan manifestly benefits the lives of many people. She is an inspiration to others in showing how individuals, working against the odds in a difficult environment, can make a difference.
Bernie Jones and his colleagues have helped to keep the Society engaged with many academies and international organizations. Carol Rennie, a member of our staff fluent in Mandarin, was seconded to Beijing to help set up the office of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) in China.
The Society is of course the academy of science for the entire Commonwealth, not just for the UK. Sixty of our Fellows are based in Australia. Stephen Cox and Ian Cooper have been discussing with them how the Murphy Bequest can offer some specific benefits to Australian science.
A highlight of my own travels this year was a visit to India, where I met a number of our Indian Fellows, visited institutions in Delhi and Bangalore, and had meetings with both President Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. There is scope for expanded collaboration in nanotechnology, and biomedical sciences. In clean energy, there could be expanded public–private partnership funding on both sides. The Society awarded President Kalam the Charles II Medal for his contributions to fostering science. It was a pleasure to welcome him to the Society to receive the award in the presence of a distinguished Anglo-Indian audience.
Next month, David King ends his seven years as the government's Chief Scientific Advisor. His tenure started with foot and mouth—and ended with badgers and bird flu. He has engaged with a wide range of issues, retaining the confidence of government and the trust of the public. He had a pivotal influence on this government—and indeed worldwide—in pushing climate issues up the political agenda. He has done the same for a second theme close to his heart—capacity building in Africa, and the role that science can have in developing countries. It's excellent for the Society that we shall now have him on our Council. His successor, John Beddington, has our good wishes as he takes on the most challenging job in UK science.
Other Royal Society matters
We launched our 350th anniversary appeal at an event in July. We are fortunate to have attracted a strong and versatile Board, chaired by David Sainsbury. We are especially grateful to the Board members for their exemplary personal generosity and their energetic commitment to helping us. Building on the head start of the Theo Murphy legacy, a further £24 million has been raised. I should like to thank all those who have already been so generous. We have about £30 million to go if we are to reach our target.
We intend to use the 350th anniversary as a stimulus to enhance our efforts, and the profile of science, in numerous ways, and to collaborate with many other bodies in the UK and internationally in so doing. We also hope that the anniversary will leave a lasting legacy—for instance a new category of ‘2010 fellowships’, a permanent ramping up of our activities and broadening of our engagement.
We also intend to expand and endow our activities in Science Policy. Those who make policy in government, in the private sector, and in international organizations have inadequate contact with the best science. There is also a tendency for longer-term issues, however important, to be crowded out by immediate problems. That is why the role of the Royal Society—and indeed of academies in general—is so distinctive and important.
Our studies and policy statements should be rigorous and timely—that goes without saying, but it is then crucial to ensure that they reach the appropriate desks in Whitehall and elsewhere. It is also crucial to optimize the impact of all the events we host at the Society. In this context, we welcome a new staff member, Peter Cotgreave. After nine years as director of ‘Save British Science’, he joins us as Director of Public Affairs. And let me add here an appreciation of David Boak, who retired this year. During his nine years as Director of Communications he spearheaded our communications work and our Science in Society programme, and oversaw the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the double helix.
Earlier this afternoon, we commemorated the Fellows who died during the year. Very many, all over the world, were shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of Anne McLaren, one of our most eminent Fellows. In her long scientific life, she mentored generations of younger researchers. She was a firm moral compass in bioethical issues. She served the Society superbly as Foreign Secretary. In these and other roles, her commitment and effective idealism were an inspiration to us all.
I'd like also to pay tribute to the late Gareth Roberts, a stalwart and effective advocate for science and education, who we'd hoped could have offered much wisdom in the years ahead.
On more cheerful note, we congratulate our distinguished former President, Andrew Huxley, who was 90 earlier this month. He is participating in a range of celebrations that would have exhausted many far younger men—including a conference in his honour at University College London.
Each year, one of the Society's officers retires. This time it is our Treasurer, David Wallace. He has overseen issues of finance and pensions. Where matters like this are concerned, it is the failures that make headlines; there have been no such headlines during David's five years—indeed, there has been an unprecedented growth in our assets, and in our activities. He has contributed to many other aspects of the Society's work—energy and security policy in particular. And all this activity has been combined with high-profile posts elsewhere: he was Vice Chancellor at Loughborough, where he led the university to great success: it rose in all league tables and was rated the university with the happiest students. He then moved to two demanding roles in Cambridge.
We welcome as incoming Treasurer Peter Williams, who brings expertise in industry and, like his predecessor, strong links with the Royal Academy of Engineering, and a commitment to educational issues.
Let me also acclaim my fellow-officers who are continuing: David Read and Martin Taylor, the two secretaries, who bear a heavy workload; and Lorna Casselton, who has travelled almost incessantly on the Society's behalf during her first year in office.
The Society and its programmes attract loyal and committed staff. One of the real bonuses of my two years has been getting to know them and benefiting from their expertise on policy, international relations and so forth. Many of those who visit the Society, or deal with it in other ways, offer appreciative comments that testify to the efficiency of all who run our grants, our publications, and our extensive programme of public events.
The Society has now completed its 347th year. There has never been a time when we have had more opportunities, or a deeper obligation, to promote the importance of science for our nation, for our culture, and for the world's future.
- Received December 13, 2007.
- Accepted December 13, 2007.
- © 2008 The Royal Society