Wednesday 29 September 2010

Science is vital

I have just signed the ‘Science is Vital’ petition established by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) which grew out of ‘Save British Science’ in the 1980s.

As the Campaign says on its website, “the UK has a proud history of excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We are world-leaders in many fields of research, producing over 10% of global scientific output with only 1% of the global population, and despite spending less on science per capita than most of our competitors.” This is nowhere more apparent than at the annual breast cancer symposium in San Antonio, Texas, every December where British scientists punch way above their weight in terms of not only the numbers presenting but also the quality of the research. We have been fortunate to see a number of scientists we support each year.

Why should you sign this if you are not a scientist? Science investment in the UK is a crucial driver of our economy and overwhelmingly supports world-class research. We know – our research is peer-reviewed internationally. Cutting investment risks putting all this in jeopardy — especially at a time when our competitors, such as the US, China, Germany, and France, are increasing their science funding. If we do the opposite we will lose not only our science base but also our scientists and discourage inward investment which will have a negative impact on the economy – and on all of us.

Do not think for one moment that charities can pick up the slack. We are already, as you will have seen from earlier blogs, at risk of losing the Charity Research Support Fund thereby reducing the amount of research that we will be able to support.

Please follow the link here.

Thank you.

Monday 20 September 2010

Thoughts for last week

Our sector has our own trade paper – Third Sector. It runs a column which charts a week in the life of a charity Chief Executive. One tries to sound worthy, hard-working, caring and business-like and possibly even humorous as well. I ticked that box a while ago but I was reminded of it when I thought back about the past week which has been a full one, both professionally and personally.

On the work front, besides planning for a board meeting and October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I have been signing off responses to numerous consultations (see CEO AMRC - Simon Denegri's blog) in between preparing for party conference season. I don’t know quite how our small (but perfectly formed) research and policy team have crammed it all in.

As you would expect our fundraising and communications teams are rushed off their feet and there will be no let up until the end of October and wear it pink. There is so much happening over the next few weeks that we have a Monday morning round-up of everything that is happening just for that week so that we can know what our colleagues are doing and how we can help. This coming Friday afternoon sees me at Hyde Park helping with Debenhams’ staff STEP ON IT - raising money with a walk.

Back to last week: it is a thoughtful time of year if you are Jewish. I grew up in an orthodox Jewish home, although we did not stick to all the letters of the law – especially regarding food! However, my father, besides being a surgeon had studied the Talmud and lived the spirit of his religion. I remember as a child when he explained to me that on the first day of the Jewish New Year the book of judgment was opened and you had till the end of the Day of Atonement (last Saturday night) to atone for your sins and ask for forgiveness because when the book was shut everything that was going to happen was written and you had no chance to change it. No, I don’t really believe that but old habits die hard and there was a lot to think about this week.

So Avram Grant did not attend the West Ham game on Saturday because he, the son of a Holocaust survivor, was respecting the Day of Atonement. I was disappointed to learn that a small percentage of the fans thought he should. There are some things more important than football – and West Ham earned their first points of the season – so there.

Nobby Stiles is selling his memorabilia from the time that England had a football team that could and did win a World Cup. Footballers in the 1960s were paid around £25 a week which was very much in line with other salaries. Clearly money doesn’t buy success.

This also coincided with the visit of the Pope and without entering into any discussion about the very real and valid criticisms of the church – there was something impressive about seeing tens of thousands of people coming together to pray rather than in anger. There were protests and that is good too – we all have a voice, which brings me onto my next thought.

My grandfather was in the Royal Flying Corps in WWI and my father served on a British hospital ship in WWII (the AMRA for history fans). This week saw the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain: then, as now, it is politicians that cause wars, not soldiers. I am only too aware that I would not be living here, safely, with the right to protest, in London today if it were not for them. If you have a spare couple of hours in London – go to the Air Force Museum in Hendon and have a look at those airplanes – how did they do it?

I was also reminded of when Winston Churchill died and was lying in state in Westminster. It was a freezing January night: we came home from work, grabbed something to eat and went to queue for five hours to walk past and pay our respects.

We all know Churchill’s comment on the Battle of Britain - “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”. Even more poignantly, leading blogger Iain Dale was visiting Commonwealth graves this weekend with his father and mentions the inscription on the grave of Flying Officer D Hopkinson, died aged 22, 17 May 1943 “He died to give us another dawn, for us to live all his tomorrows.”

Friday 10 September 2010

Science at the top of the media agenda – for all the wrong reasons.

For once science has been near the top of the media agenda this week and for all the wrong reasons. You can read others far more eloquent than I on the subject of Vince Cable’s speech and subsequent interviews and comments on the subject of cutting back on science spending. We have been campaigning for the retention of the Charity Research Support Fund (how could you not know dear reader) so that we could at least continue to fund research at the level we do now.

Now, not only is that under threat but the Government is threatening to cut back on science spending on research and possibly particularly on cancer – almost saying that because the charities have done so well they can opt out. Yes, this is a simplification but it makes the point.

In his speech he said “I want to lay down a challenge to the science and business communities today. That we come together, work together and plan a future together that makes the most of this country’s competitive advantages in financially difficult circumstances for the benefit of us all.” You would not think what would follow from this an announcement that the science budget would be cut – cut academic research and there is no one left with whom to collaborate.

I think that is a mistake, not because it will put scientists out of work but because we as a country have precious few natural resources to exploit: we are hardly a low cost manufacturer like China or India but what we still seem to have are talent and brains and we punch far above our weight in science and innovation. Unsurprisingly that is also what drives industry and ultimately the economy so that more companies/people pay tax. More taxes....... so obviously the sensible thing to do is to choke this at the source – cut the science budget.

But that wasn’t what sent me into full rant mode. What sent me into full rant mode was Vince Cable’s statement that “There was some estimate on the basis of surveys done recently that something in the order of 45 per cent of the research grants that were going through was to research that was not of excellent standard. So the bar will have to be raised”.

We are just finishing the trustees’ report for our accounts. In it we talk about how, in the past year, the percentage of grants funded against applications regrettably has reduced. This is not because the quality has declined but because the number of applications has increased significantly but the number we can afford to fund has not increased alongside this. A panel of international, external experts has judged the research as excellent as has our very eminent scientific advisory board – and yet the bar has been raised – again – so that some of these excellent pieces of research are not being funded. I am not sure how you can be more or less excellent but that is the territory we are in. Other funding bodies, including the research councils are no different.

Oh joy, oh rapture there is someone smarter and better qualified than me who said it for me – please read Dismisses internationally excellent research.

We know that the government is going to make cuts – make them but don’t pretend it is merely to slash the mediocre.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Is that a t-shirt I see flying past my window...

Workers in London’s iconic “Gherkin” building were bemused to see a pink cloud shaped like a t-shirt floating past their window this morning. Just a reminder that Breast Cancer Campaign’s flagship event, wear it pink, supported by Vanish, is on October 29th. Just wear something pink and make a donation to research – couldn’t be simpler. Of course if you just wish to wear pink bubbles that is entirely up to you.

You can register for wear it pink either on the website or through our Facebook Page.