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What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

Science is Vital 2013

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Screen shot 2012-09-14 at 10.43.55Last week was the second Science is Vital AGM!

What’s been happening?

It’s been a strange year for many of us, including the SiV team, but without getting all personal, we hope to be more active in the coming year, trying to address the threatened cuts to the science budget.

Dr Jenny Rohn (chair) began the meeting with a re-cap of the last year.

Some action points from last year could be picked up, including trying to get some local MPs to visit labs. But it has also been a good year; in the 2012 meeting the decision was made to focus on science funding and trying to influence decisions.

There were face-to-face meetings with MPs; media coverage (SiV are now approached regularly for quotes on science funding to go in the news!); a reaction to the spending review in June 2013 in which the cuts were threatened by BIS; and a call for the budget’s ring-fence not to be broken in November.

Also in March, prior to the spending review, SiV made a call for at least 0.8% GDP investment in the science budget, long-term. This was backed by a letter published in the Daily Telegraph which was signed by 53 high profile scientists including 7 Nobel Laureates and some famous types.

The petition for this budget commitment now has over 6400 signatures, including 18 scientific organisations and charities.

Another focus for 2013 was canvassing members’ opinions and gathering human stories of how the budget cuts are affecting us. The legacy of the 2010 budget freeze (a cut in real terms) is really impacting everyone working in science in the UK; more than 800 views of researchers were collected.

Young people were also asked about their views of science as a career, and together all these responses clearly showed that people are feeling the cuts.

SiV produced a Legacy of the 2010 Science Budget Cash Freeze report and delivered it to the Science Minister David Willetts (who was apparently “not too happy” about it, so perhaps the tone was just right!). Overall the meeting, also with Dr Graham Reid (BIS Head of Research Funding), was a “good experience”.

The freeze was therefore maintained, and we avoided cuts, but no increase was promised. The 2013 response to BIS rumours of an imminent break of the ring-fence came next and was met with an open letter to Vince Cable at the end of November.

While the cut is not confirmed, more “items” could be included in the science budget without increasing the amount of funding, leading to an effective 2-3% cut. The suspicion is that the bad news could be buried over the holiday period; what should we do if the ring-fence is breached?

The CaSE election round table on December 9th was attended by several organisations including Universities UK and the Wellcome Trust, and included discussion of how science could be kept on the agenda for all parties in the run-up to the next election (including local groups lobbying MPs), as well as other issues that affect UK science such as immigration.

So the short-term focus for SiV would be maintaining the budget ring-fence, while the long-term goal could be securing investment in the budget.

We can’t react until we know what the threat really is but Science is Vital is a grassroots organisation, so we can get angry about it!

The meeting

Shane McCracken began with the treasurer’s report. This was followed by the sad news that Dr Julie Ghosh, who was membership secretary, had passed away in March 2013. Details can be requested privately from Dr Richard P. Grant (secretary).

Matthew P. Martin was nominated for membership secretary and approved. Exec. committee elections then took place and we moved on to other plans.

Some points raised:

– How can we equip people with the knowledge and confidence to meet their MPs and what are the best methods?

– The University assessment system (Research Excellent Framework or REF) is not well-loved, but it does at least provide case studies from the last decade of the impact of UK science. It’s a useful resource we can “throw back”.

– The REF information complements our stories of problems arising from lack of funds.

– What would our potential reaction to the cuts be?

– For the next general election, what might be the most effective ways to influence manifestos? Perhaps a demonstration would be ineffective.

– London might have a 6 week STEM expo for young people (sorry I don’t have any more info on this in my notes!)

– Can SiV have “seeds” in every major city? Perhaps via Universities?
1) Need to find people who are motivated and willing to participate
2) Give people “ammo” and resources they need; both national and local data
–> An A4 info sheet/presentation (see the Scienceogram)
–> Meeting with MPs: local case studies

– The original 35,000 SiV petition signatures cover most/all major locations? (Some can no longer be contacted due to the itinerant nature of scientists and e-mail addresses no longer being valid).

– I scribbled “SiV nodes!” in my notepad and mentioned it, so we ended up calling these potential contacts nodes for the rest of the evening. Sorry about that (but we didn’t like “reps” and came up with nothing better!)

– The mailing list will be revised to identify people who want to be involved.

– Communication strategies: including Twitter, Facebook – a page on the SiV website to refer back to with clearly set-out plans/goals and tasks.

– “Node” Roles: national involvement. Using Change.org to start with, using a system like the one used by Skeptics in the Pub.

– Identifying key MPs involved in writing manifestos?

– Running local Hustings events

– Finding out who participated in sending copies of The Geek Manifesto to MPs?

Andrew could do a Scienceogram talk at London skeptics in January!

– Can we join forces with other groups around the country who love science?
Café Scientifique, Science Showoff and Bright Club, Voice of Young Science..? Do you have any ideas/want to help out? Let us know in the comments and tweet @scienceisvital!

– Can we have a London Hustings with manifesto writers? Organise with CaSE, find a good hosting venue (Royal Society?)

Do get in touch with the SiV team if you have any ideas, can offer any help, or want to volunteer as a node(!) – we’ll make 2014 a great year for science!

Finally, many happy returns to Prof Stephen Curry who celebrated his birthday on Friday. Look at the fantastic Science Cake!!

StephenCurrybdaycakeMore angles here – it’s even got a copy of On The Origin Of Species!! Truly amazing.

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Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

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