THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Science blog

22 posts categorized "TalkScience"

27 October 2016

Replace, Reduce, Refine: Animals in Research.

Add comment

PhD placement student Mandy Kleinsorge looks back on our most recent TalkScience@BL event.

TalkScience@BL - Replace, Reduce, Refine: Animals in Research

The use of animals in research is as controversial as ever. It is well-known that animal research has brought about some great discoveries in the past1, such as the development of Herceptin and Tamoxifen for the treatment of breast cancer or the discovery of bronchodilators to treat the symptoms of asthma. Today, the UK regulations for research involving animals are among the tightest in the world. In consequence, it is illegal in the UK (and in Europe) to use an animal in research if there is a viable non-animal alternative2. Despite this, the number of experimental procedures on animals in the UK has been steadily increasing over the last years3 and funding of non-animal research accounted for only 0.036 % of the UK national R&D science expenditure4 (2011). Apparently, three quarters of Britons agreed that there needs to be more research carried out into alternatives to animal experimentation5 (2012).

On 13th October, we invited experts in the field to the British Library to publicly discuss the current state of alternatives to animals, as well as the efforts that are made to improve the welfare of animals that are still needed in scientific research. The concept of reducing or even substituting animals in scientific experiments (or at least improving the conditions under which these experiments are conducted) is not new. In 1959, Russell and Burch established the principles of the Three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement)6 which came to be EU-wide guidelines for the more ethical use – or non-use – of animals in research. Today, a number of organisations campaign for openness and education as to why animals are needed in some areas of research, but also as to where we might not actually need them anymore. One of those is the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) who we collaborated with on our TalkScience event ‘Replace, Reduce, Refine: Animals in Research’. The event was chaired by Stephen Holgate, Professor of Medicine at the University of Southampton and Board Chair of the NC3Rs.

Taking a closer look at Robin's amoeba.
Taking a closer look at Robin's amoeba.

The first speaker of the evening was Robin Williams (Head of the Biomedical Sciences Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London). Robin uses Dictyostelium, a social amoeba and therefore non-animal model, to conduct research into neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. He even brought some amoeba for the audience to look at! Besides bringing awareness to the fact that this organism can actually represent a viable alternative to animal experimentation, he also drew attention to two big problems that researchers using animal alternatives are facing. Acquiring funding and publishing scientific papers are the most important tasks of senior researchers and both of these are complicated by a limited acceptance of non-animal models. Although 3Rs practice is increasingly advocated in the UK, the peer review process regulating funding and publication of research projects is a global endeavour. Robin therefore called for a shift in attitude towards alternatives to animals on a world-wide level.

Our second speaker, Sally Robinson (Head of Laboratory Animal Science UK at AstraZeneca), shed some light into the use of animals in pharmaceutical research. Sally stressed the importance of using the most appropriate model – animal or non-animal – to answer the scientific question. This is not as trivial as it sounds, and is key to obtaining meaningful results and minimising use of animals where possible. The welfare of the animals used in drug development is equally important, as Sally illustrated with the refinement of dog housing. By optimising pen design7, the welfare of laboratory dogs can be drastically improved, and so can the quality of scientific research they’re involved in. Furthermore, Sally herself had a leading role in the challenging of the regulatory requirement for acute toxicity tests in drug development8, which ultimately changed international legislative guidance and reduced the number of animals needed in pharmaceutical research.

Our panel: Stephen Holgate, Robin Williams, Sally Robinson and Robin Lovell-Badge.
Our panel: Stephen Holgate, Robin Williams, Sally Robinson and Robin Lovell-Badge.

Our last speaker was Robin Lovell-Badge (Head of the Division of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the Francis Crick Institute). He opened his talk by endorsing openness in animal research. This is a welcome and necessary trend of the past few years – after animal research had been conducted behind closed doors in the UK for decades for fear of violent actions. The ‘Concordat on Openness on Animal Research’9 was initiated in 2012 and has been signed by 107 UK organisations to date. Robin explained which animals the newly built Francis Crick Institute will work with and why, and how Home Office guidelines on animal research have helped inform the design of their state-of-the-art facilities. He also mentioned some of their work that doesn’t involve animals, like research using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These iPS cells resemble embryonic stem cells and can be generated from any living cell of a human donor. They are able to differentiate into virtually every cell type of the body, presenting an alternative source of human tissue for drug screenings and the modelling of diseases10. This fairly new technology might even be useful as an alternative to animal experiments in the future.

In discussion with the audience it became clear that the UK is leading the world in the realisation of the 3Rs. However, there is still room for much improvement in furthering the 3Rs. While better experimental design using robust biostatistics and in-depth training of scientists handling animals is vital, increased acceptance of negative data would avoid unnecessary duplication of experiments using animals.

The discussion continued after the event.
The discussion continued after the event.

When asked whether an animal-free research in the immediate future was possible, the panel agreed that it wasn’t. A lot more research into alternatives as well as a change in people’s mindsets is needed beforehand. But how do we exert pressure for this change? Do we need animal activists to do this, one audience member asked. Good question. It is definitely necessary to bring different types of people together to have more balanced and open discussions about this emotive topic. So, thanks to the speakers and the audience of this TalkScience event for joining us to disuss this important issue.

Further reading:

1 Understanding Animal Research. Forty reasons why we need animals in research.
2 Animals in Science Committee. Consolidated version of the Animals Scientific Procedures Act 1986.
3 Home Office. Statistics of scientific procedures on living animals, Great Britain 2015.
4 Taylor, K. EU member state government contribution to alternative methods.
5 Ipsos MORI. Views on the use of animals in scientific research.
6 Russell, WMS and Burch, RL. The principles of humane experimental technique.
7 Refining Dog Care. Dog unit and home pen design.
8 Robinson, S et al. A European pharmaceutical company initiative challenging the regulatory requirement for acute toxicity studies in pharmaceutical drug development.
9 Understanding Animal Research. Concordat on Openness on Animal Research.
10 Takahashi, K and Yamanaka, S. A decade of transcription factor-mediated reprogramming to pluripotency.

 

23 June 2016

Illegal substances or aiding physical excellence? A few historical perspectives

Add comment

Ahead of next week's TalkScience event on Doping in Sport Julian Walker explores some historical examples of performance enhancement described in his new book "The Roar of the Crowd".

The essence of the debate regarding the use of drugs in sport is: what is an unfair substance to use, and how do we decide? The F60146-12dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable is, and for decades has been, constantly moving. For the lay-person the terms ‘anabolic steroids’ and ‘human growth hormones’ sound warning bells, but the equally prohibited ‘diuretics’ sound relatively harmless, and the word ‘stimulants’ requires detailed specification to the point where the word itself is more or less meaningless. How does the cultural history of sport handle this subject?

In Book 23 of Homer’s Iliad the funeral games held for Patroclus include a boxing match and a wrestling match. When the boxing match is announced forward comes Epeues, who has certainly done his mental preparation:

"I boast myself To all superior"

His endorphins are running and performance-enhancing even before he has a challenger, his control of the mind-game as assured as Ferguson’s or Mourinho’s. He is answered by the equally confident Euryalus. The fighters each dress for the fight, and:

"Mingling with fists, to furious fight they fell;

  Dire was the crash of jaws, and the sweat stream'd

  From every limb"

Eurylaus looks for an opening but effectively the fight is over with a single blow from Epeues, and he is taken away, spitting blood.

The wrestling bout is more of a match, Homer pitting brain against brawn, Ulysses against Ajax, neither managing to lift and throw the other. Ulysses then enters the running match, against Oiliades. It’s a close thing, Ulysses is probably tired from the wrestling, and it looks like he is going to lose:

"Oiliades

  Led swift the course, and closely at his heels

  Ulysses ran. Near as some cinctured maid

  Industrious holds the distaff to her breast,                  

  While to and fro with practised finger neat

  She tends the flax drawing it to a thread,

  So near Ulysses follow'd him, and press'd

  His footsteps, ere the dust fill'd them again,

  Pouring his breath into his neck behind,                      

  And never slackening pace.[1]"

At this point Ulysses uses the Ancient Greek equivalent of a performance-enhancing drug – he calls on Minerva for help; and sure enough she trips his opponent so that he falls face-down in some cow-poo (ironically his prize for coming second is an ox). Quite blatantly Ulysses has use external assistance to gain victory, and got away with it. Oiliades puts in a complaint:

"Ah--Pallas tripp'd my footsteps; she attends                

  Ulysses ever with a mother's care."

And what happens?

    "Loud laugh'd the Grecians."

It’s a disgrace.

Robert Burton explores, in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1652), the role of exercise in balancing the body. He notes the Roman physician Galen’s contention that ‘to play at ball, be it with the hand or racket, in tennis-courts or otherwise, … exerciseth each part of the body, and doth much good, so that they sweat not too much’[2]. Burton here points out the control on exercise – do it to a certain level of sweating, but stop there; earlier he says that exercise should be done ‘after he hath done his ordinary needs, rubbed his body, washed his hands and face, combed his head and gargarised [gargled]’. These are physical and mental preparations, getting the body empty (I take this to be the meaning of ‘done his ordinary needs’), clean and warmed, and knowing exactly how far to go. While not explicitly involving the ingesting of external substances, they do indicate that exercise does not stand in isolation: the mind and body are made ready for maximum benefit by specific preparation.

F60146-17The pre-match preparation of Captain Barclay, the early nineteenth-century endurance athlete, pushed this process further, and was carefully described by Walter Thom in Pedestrianism (1813). Using Barclay as a model, Thom offers a regimen for the preparing athlete, beginning with ‘a regular course of physic, which consists of three dozes [doses]. Glauber salts are generally preferred’. Glauber salt, sodium sulphate decahydrate, is named after Joseph Glauber, who isolated it in 1625, and named it ‘sal mirabilis’ for its supposed medicinal properties; it was used as a purgative (laxative), and is currently deemed acceptable. Thom’s diet list for the aspiring athlete starts with ‘beef-steaks or mutton-chops under-done, with stale bread and old beer’, and goes on to prohibit any ‘preparations of vegetable matter’ other than ‘biscuit and stale bread’. Prohibited foods include veal, lamb and pork, vegetables, as well as fish, butter, cheese, or milk. Profuse sweating is required, induced by running four miles in flannel at top speed, followed by the imbibing of ‘sweating liquor’, made from caraway-seed, coriander-seed, and liquorice, boiled down in cider, after which the athlete is ‘put to bed in his flannels, and being covered with six or eight pairs of blankets, and a feather-bed’ for about half an hour. As regards hydration ‘water is never given alone … avoid liquids as much as possible, and no more liquor of any kind is allowed to be taken than what is merely requisite to quench the thirst’.

While none of these steps, however eccentric, look ethically dubious, they do make up a massive control regimen for the enhancement of the athlete’s performance. The commodified successor to Capt Barclay’s ‘red-meat & no veg’ diet was Vin Mariani, the so-called ‘athlete’s wine’, launched in 1863. This popular concoction of red wine and coca leaves, whose stimulant properties were praised by the mostly sedentary great and the good, also happened to aid endurance for athletes and cyclists. Cocaine is now, of course, a banned substance for athletes, but Capt Barclay’s coriander-seed and caraway-seed are both diuretics.

By the end of the 19th century training itself, in some circles, was deemed unsporting. When Blackburn Olympic had the temerity to beat the Old Etonians in the 1883 FA Cup Final the Eton College Chronicle wrote,

‘So great was their desire to wrest the Cup from the holders that they introduced into football a practice which has excited the greatest disapprobation in the South.  For three weeks before the final match they went into a strict course of training …’

Blackburn Olympic won 2:1 after extra time. Somehow the Old Etonians had not noticed that the goalposts had moved.

F60104-57

But that perhaps is the question: when we come to look at acceptable or unacceptable substances, can we compare them to laxatives, diuretics, diets and sweating regimes, training or neglecting to train, or even the possible advantage of supreme arrogance, which though it did not work for the 1883 Old Etonians probably helped Epeues? Seeding, records, divisions and trophy cabinets ensure that competing athletes never start on a level playing field. Professional status, sponsorship and training facilities make a real difference to achievement. The ethical paradigms by which we judge acceptable from unacceptable are based on judgements and categorisations that fluctuate all the time. When we compare Phendimetrazine with good old mutton chops are we looking at a difference of kind or a difference of degree?

Julian Walker is an artist, writer, researcher and educator. His latest book "The Roar of the Crowd" is a major new anthology of sports writing that captures the drama, excitement and intrigue of athletic achievement and celebrates the innate urge to compete, to fight, and to test the human body. He is also the author of "The Finishing Touch: Cosmetics Through the Ages" and "How to Cure the Plague and other Curious Remedies".

[1] William Cowper’s translation, 1791

[2] Part 2, Section 2, Member 4.

09 February 2016

PhD placement in Science in Society at the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

Applications now open

The British Library is currently running a series of 3-month (or PT equivalent) PhD Placements, to be hosted by specialist curatorial teams and other Library experts.  Of the 17 placements on offer, this opportunity will be of particular interest to PhD students with interests in science, science policy and the social perception of scientific issues.

Science in Society

Working within the Research Engagement Team, the placement student will have the opportunity to organise and deliver a TalkScience event on a topic relevant to scientific policy.  TalkScience is well-established, highly successful series of public debates organised by and held at the British Library. Previous topics have ranged from the use of personalised genomics to science education in schools.

TalkScience_23_6_15-45
A previous TalkScience event

The placement student will also have the opportunity to use the Library’s collections in relation to science and its social perceptions, for example by working with the Web Archive Team to produce a special online collection related to science and science policy.  Additionally, placement students can also get involved with a number of activities across the Research Engagement Team, such as contributing to research reports or social media activity. 

We have hosted Science in Society interns in previous years. You can read more about their projects here:

Stuart smith talkscienceStuart Smith (BBSRC intern, 2012)

Adam levyAdam Levy (NERC intern, 2014)

Rachel huddartRachel Huddart (BBSRC intern, 2014)

Further information

The application deadline for all of the PhD placements is Friday 19 February 2016.

Further information, including eligibility criteria and details on the application process, can be found here:

http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/highered/phd-placement-scheme 

All applications must be supported by the applicant’s PhD supervisor and their department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent). Please forward any questions to: Research.Development@bl.uk

 

Eleanor Sherwood

Research Engagement PhD Placement Student

18 December 2015

12 Days Of Christmas - a festive science quiz

Add comment Comments (0)

Fancy a bit of light relief in the run up to Christmas? Team ScienceBL challenge you to our 12 days of Christmas quiz - with a science theme of course.

List your answers in the comment section below or reply on Twitter – no cheating! Answers will be revealed later today.

(N.B. These questions first appeared in last week’s TalkScience Christmas quiz – our yuletide extravaganza of festive science puns and unashamed geekery)

Update: 11am; 18/12/15. Answers added below. Scroll down to find out the correct answers.

12daysofchristmas1-6

A Partridge in a pear-tree - Which ester is used to give pear drops their distinctive pear flavour?

2 Turtle doves - Is the dove heart smaller or larger in proportion to body size than the human heart is?

3 French hens - What name is given to an adolescent female chicken?

  1. Wattle
  2. Pullet
  3. Spur
  4. Capon            

4 Colly birds (or Calling birds) - What type of bird is a colly bird? 

5 Gold rings - What is the atomic number for gold?

  1. 72
  2. 77
  3. 79
  4. 80 

6 Geese-a-laying - What is the main protein constituent of the white of an egg?     

12daysofchristmas7-12

7 Swans-a-swimming - The Athena SWAN Charter to support women in science was established in what year?   

8 Maids-a-milking - What is the name of the family of proteins that make up 80% of all the protein in cow’s milk?

9 Ladies dancing - How many bones are there in the human foot and ankle?       

10 Lords-a-leaping - The International Telecommunication Union announced the decision to ditch “leap seconds” will be delayed until what year?             

11 Pipers piping - Which of these pipes will produce the highest note? (see image above)

12 Drummers drumming - A decibel is one tenth of one bel. Who is this unit named in honour of?  

(All images Public Domain - from Pixabay)

 

ANSWERS

  1. Ethyl acetate/ethanoate gives the pear flavour. Isomyl acetate/ethanoate gives a banana flavour.
  2. Larger. this enables the bird’s cardiovascular system to support the high metabolic needs required for flying
  3. b) Pullet. Capon is a castrated male. Wattles are flaps of skin under the beak. The spur is the horn-like protrusion on the leg
  4. Blackbird. Colly is an Old English term for 'black,' from the word 'colliery,' meaning coal mine 
  5. c) 79
  6. Albumen (or Albumin/Ovalbumin) Egg white is ~90% water, most of the remainder is albumen.
  7. The Athena Swan charter was established in 2005. More details here: http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/
  8. Caseins
  9. 26 (or 28 if you include the sesamoid bones at the base of the big toe)
  10. The decision has been delayed until 2023
  11. The answer is A. The shorter the tube, the higher the note.
  12. The bel is named after Alexander Graham Bell – more commonly known for inventing the telephone

10 December 2015

GM Crops: what are the risks?

Add comment Comments (0)

Last month we took our successful TalkScience series on the road to Leeds Central Library. Here Ruth Amey  (PhD student at the University of Leeds) shares some of the highlights of the event.

The GM crop era may seem like a golden age of technofixes, but in a recent ‘TalkScience’ discussion in Leeds the panel explored some of the less obvious risks associated with this technology. It is commonly stated that GM crops can ‘help feed the world’, but the speakers challenged this idea and considered issues of control, ecological harm and the unknown dangers from altering genetic code.

This is the first TalkScience event to be held outside of the British Library’s London’s site, organised by the West Yorkshire branch of the British Science Association in collaboration with the national British Science Association, British Library and Leeds Central Library.

TalkScienceLeeds
Panellists (left to right): Professor Jurgen Denecke, Andy Goldring, Liz O’Neill and chair Dr. Alice Owen listen to the final speech from Martin Coates. Photo credit: Jing An

What are GM Crops?

Genetically Modified (GM) crops are plants which are grown for food and have had their genetic code altered. This is often done to introduce a trait to a crop that does not occur naturally, by modifying DNA. For example, rice could be cultivated to produce vitamin A, or crops are altered to produce a small amount of toxin that is harmful to the insects that would eat them.

Can GM Crops really feed the population?

It is a phrase commonly heard that GM crops will ‘feed the world’, and yet Professor Jurgen Denecke from Leeds University pointed out that we already grow enough food to feed more than the population. The problem is not in the amount produced, Jurgen argued, but instead the issue is in limited energy for transportation and Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, argued that starvation is a socioeconomic problem – ‘people starve because they are poor’. GM crops aren’t a quick-fix for world hunger. The problem is in politics and not production.

 The issue of control

‘No-one should own genetic code’ posed Liz O’Neill. If a company can patent a crop, then they can charge royalties and control who can buy that crop. Andy Goldring, CEO of the Permaculture Association network, invited us to imagine a future in which a handful of companies control the world’s food supply, and require you to buy only their crops, and puts people in jail for using traditional crops. ‘This is almost like a James Bond film!’ jested Andy – but with GM Crops could this be the future? GM crops gives the potential for companies to have complete control of a seed, and consequently complete control of our food. Martin Coates, Managing Director of Agrantec, explained how complex the food chain is and without transparency GM crops are potentially an opportunity for companies to exploit this complexity - ‘Anyone working with genetic modification needs to recognise that GM Crops are not just about science, but also about political and corporate power’.

Ecological harm

Andy Goldring particularly highlighted the ecological problems. Certain GM Crops can produce toxins harmful to non-target insects, such as butterflies. Planting different crops also affects crop rotations and affects biodiversity, which are particular issues to Permaculture’s aim to create a sustainable society from ‘permanent agriculture’.

Fear of the unknown

We can’t predict the long-term effects of GM crops. Ecosystems are complicated, crops are hard to contain and cross-contamination can occur.  ‘DNA is not lego!’ proclaimed Liz O’Neill – altering genetic code is complicated, there’s a lot that can go wrong.

Take-home messages

The closing remarks all followed a broadly similar theme. Jurgen Denecke maintained that every method that increases knowledge is a good thing and Martin Coates suggested we should be supportive of research that makes us understand GM crops better. Andy Goldring too urged us to keep an open mind about science, all of which answered a question from the floor about our society’s responsibility to pursue the potential of GM Crops. But ultimately the panel agreed with Liz O’Neill’s caution to separate the scientific potential of GM crops to how GM crops are being produced now. Andy Goldring stressed that we should follow the money and make sure crops aren’t about making shareholders wealthier. Ultimately, it seems there is a political issue behind GM crops that perhaps, currently, is bigger than the science.

We invited the audience to share with us their views on GM Crops before and after the debate; the audience overwhelmingly voted with a positive opinion of GM Crops.

TalkScienceLeeds(2)
Photo credit: Anna Woolman


The panel included:

  • Liz O'Neill from GM Freeze, the UK umbrella campaign for a moratorium on GM in food and farming.
  • Professor Jurgen Denecke from Leeds University - Professor for Plant Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Faculty of Biological Sciences
  • Andy Goldring from Permaculture, the national charity that supports people to learn about and use permaculture – ‘Permanent Agriculture’
  • Martin Coates from Agrantec - an all-in-one cloud based data management system to meet the needs of the food industry.

Chair:

  • Alice Owen from Leeds University – Lecturer in Business Sustainability & Stakeholder Engagement in Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment

09 November 2015

Science in Schools: What are the options?

Add comment Comments (0)

Here we share some of the highlights from our most recent TalkScience event.

The topic under discussion at the 30th TalkScience event was the future of secondary science education. We welcomed  Ed Dorrell (Times Educational Supplement) to chair a panel of expert speakers including Professor Louise Archer (Kings College London), Peter Finegold (Institution of Mechanical Engineers), and David Perks (East London Science School).

The panel gave a wide-ranging introduction referring to the skills shortage and the economy, science in society, and social justice. These broad issues framed the discussion of more specific points about the nature of the science curriculum (baccalaureate or ‘traditional’ academic science education), CPD for science teachers and the concept of ‘science capital’. The introduction was followed by a lively discussion between the audience and the panel.

Take a look at the highlights video here:

 

You might also be interested in this blog post where you can find out more about the range of resources relating to science education that are on offer at the British Library.

And if you missed out on this event - fear not! There is still one more TalkScience event at the British Library this year - the Christmas Quiz! Tickets are available via the British Library box office and cost £10 per team (up to 5 people).

Katie Howe

22 September 2015

‘Impossibly bold and Utopian’: H.G. Wells on education

Add comment Comments (0)

Alice Kirke investigates HG Wells’ views on science education ahead of our upcoming TalkScience event.

Although he is better known as ‘the Shakespeare of science fiction,’[1] H.G. Wells began his career as a school science teacher. Science education today needs to cater for the budding professional scientist in order to tackle global challenges such as population growth, climate change, and food security. But it also needs to nurture a greater public understanding of science. In light of these challenges, the anniversary of Wells’ birth, on 21st September 1866, prompted me to revisit his educational ideas.

H. G WellsBorn into a lower-middle class family, Wells immersed himself in books from the library at the Sussex mansion of Uppark, where his mother worked as a lady's maid. He continued to educate himself while he trained as a pupil-teacher,[2] and was eventually awarded a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in South Kensington in London, now Imperial College.

 

Whilst there, he was taught by the eminent advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution, T.H. Huxley. Wells founded the Science Schools Journal, which provided a forum for the development of his views on science and society. Darwinian notions of progress and degeneration came to inform his understanding of history, the future of mankind, and the importance of education.

In 1937, during his presidential address to the Educational Science section of the British Association, he outlined his concerns over ‘the contents of the minds our schools are turning out.’[3] His address was judged by Nature to be of such historical significance that they published it on the centenary of his birth in 1966. So, what did he have say about education?

In his address, Wells insisted that he was speaking not as a scientist, educator or author but as a ‘citizen’. Ignorance, he argued, led to tyranny, and was a consequence of the failure of elementary education to ‘properly inform’ citizens. He posed the question:

‘What are we telling young people directly about the world in which they are to live?’

Wells advocated a child-centred approach to learning which stimulated curiosity, rather than the old-fashioned rote learning which he believed still characterised schooling in the 1930s. He suggested that instead ‘the weather and the mud pie’ should introduce children to biology and that ‘we ought to build up simple and clear ideas from natural experience.’ Further, he argued that ‘natural experience’ should be the foundation not only of scientific instruction but of education more generally. Geography should give children:

‘a real picture in their minds of the Amazon forest, the pampas, the various phases in the course of the Nile… and the sort of human life that is led in these regions.’

Wells believed that telling children about the physical environment of different areas, and the lives of the people who lived there, would teach them to respect and appreciate the world as ‘one community.’ He described himself as a democratic socialist, and saw education as fundamental to peace; in his Outline of History he claimed that ‘human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ He argued that History should be the ‘main subject of instruction’ in schools, and that to avoid the ‘crazy combative patriotism that plainly threatens to destroy civilisation’, it should be based on the recent discoveries of archaeologists, not the squabbles and affairs of past kings and queens.

The education system Wells envisaged would lay down a ‘foundation of knowledge’, enabling people to continue learning throughout their lives, and to engage with issues which were of public concern, including those related to science and technology. In the world conjured up by his A Modern Utopia engineers and scientists have figured out how to meet all human needs, and are part of the elite ruling group known as the ‘Samurai’. But in the real world, Wells believed that science education was not only for scientists.

Image-utopia-pb-no2cLARGE
Frontispiece, H. G Wells, A Modern Utopia (Chapman and Hall, 1905) Shelfmark: 012631.aa.9

Education meant more than the pursuit of reason and intellect, and was not oriented towards purely instrumental economic goals. It was about discovery, questioning and knowledge, and was part of the whole education of the citizen. He concluded his address by reflecting that his educational vision seemed ‘impossibly bold and Utopian’. But he maintained that a reinvigorated education system which would enable people to engage with political, social and scientific challenges was an achievable aim, and a vital one for anyone concerned about the future of civilisation.

Wells’ reflections on education raise important questions for science education today; how should it be taught, and to what end? To debate these issues with an expert panel, come along to our next TalkScience event on 27th October.



[1] Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundwall (eds), The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction: an anthology (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) p.133 Shelfmark: YC.1987.a.3902

[2] A senior pupil who acted as a teacher to younger children

[3] Supplement to Nature, September 3, 1966

 

05 August 2015

Policy into practice

Add comment Comments (1)

Applications are now open for RCUK Policy Internships at the British Library at 2016. We are offering up to three NERC/MRC funded PhD students the chance to join us in team ScienceBL and help deliver a TalkScience event. In this blog post former intern Stuart Smith reflects on his Policy Internship placement at the British Library.

P3072475
Stuart (red hat and trousers) in the Falkland islands (Photo: Marju Karlsson)

After finishing my BBSRC policy placement at the British Library in July 2013 and wrapping up my PhD thesis, I went in search of a job. Wishing to find a job that balanced both ecological research and public engagement, I was finally offered a 2-year position leading a Darwin Initiative funded project that aims to build capacity to enhance habitat restoration in the Falklands Islands. Despite only being a small island in sub-Antarctica, with a total population of around 3,000 people, there has consistently been a need to communicate scientific and environmental issues effectively. Working for Falklands Conservation, I have established an island-wide re-vegetation trial using native seeds and I regularly talk about my work to people with a range of backgrounds: farmers, landowners, policymakers, researchers, members of the public and military personnel. And while I might not have the opportunity to get a BBC presenter to pop down to lead a panel debate, like I did my when organising a TalkScience event at the British Library, I find myself involved in outreach activity on a weekly basis, whether writing an article for the Penguin News, the local newspaper, or giving a lesson on seeds or habitat restoration in a school. 

 

Bill.Turnbull.panel.TS21.compressed
Bill Turnbull chairing the TalkScience that Stuart developed and delivered as part of his Policy Internship at the British Library

Following on from work on the Falkland Islands, I am about to start a post-doctoral position at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway as part of AfricanBioServices, an EU funded project, and will be working in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in Tanzania/Kenya. My involvement in the project is to investigate the effect of different land-uses (both wild grazing versus domestic pastoral grazing) on grassland productivity and ecosystem functioning. Again, this role is likely to require excellent communication skills to a wide range of audiences from scientists involved in the international consortium to farmers and landowners on the ground. Even though I am still actively involved in ecological research, the essential skills of effective science communication and outreach are highly valued. The British Library has an incredibly supportive and friendly team and were happy to take on an ecologist, who particularly struggled to wear a tie. I would recommend that every postgraduate should take the opportunity to learn an increasingly important set of skills involved in outreach and public engagement and apply for a science policy placement.

Stuart Smith, BBSRC Science Policy Intern 2013

08 June 2015

The Ocean: A sustainable future or the end of the line?

Add comment Comments (0)

Peter Spooner dives into the issues of seafood sustainability in advance of our upcoming TalkScience event on 23rd June. Tickets are available from the box office.

The ocean is a vast place, covering some 70 % of the surface of the Earth. If Mount Everest sat at the bottom of the deepest ocean trench, two kilometres of water would still lie above it. It is baffling to try and imagine the numbers of creatures that survive and thrive in the swirling currents of the sea; and yet that is the task of scientists worldwide, trying to piece together scattered information to build a picture of the health of life in the ocean. But why has such research become so important?

Food for thought

Fish is an important source of protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids1. The government recommends that we eat at least two portions every week. A booming human population, growing appetites for fish and improvements in fishing technology mean that we now use at least 160 million tonnes of fish, shellfish and other marine life every year, mostly for food, and mostly taken wild from the ocean2.

Many scientists believe that such fishing pressure is not sustainable3. For the fish species where we have good data, populations have declined by 38 % since the 1970s4. Historical accounts of fish populations suggest that they have declined even more over the last century5. The fraction of global fish stocks fished at sustainable levels is also decreasing, with 30 % of fish populations now assessed as being overfished2. Wholesale species extinctions are currently rare in the ocean but local extinctions are increasingly common6. A famous example is that of the cod in the Northwest Atlantic, which were fished down to less than 10 % of their original stock over a period of about 30 years, and have not recovered7. Similarly massive reductions in populations have been recorded on a global scale for some fish including the Southern Bluefin Tuna8, and a quarter of all shark species are considered threatened9 (40 % in Europe10). Some fishing practices also cause extensive damage to the seafloor habitats that give many animals food and shelter. The accidental catching of species that are not the targets of fishing, such as turtles, is a major on-going problem.

Fishing and Marine protection

Image Credit: DJMattaar Thinkstock

Balancing the scales

Fishing and fish farming provide livelihoods for 10-12 % of the world’s population2. In order for fish and other marine life to continue providing an important source of protein, livelihoods in fishing and tourism, and benefits to the global environment, most agree that measures are needed in order to conserve fish stocks and to make them sustainable. In areas where action is being taken, such as the Northeast Atlantic, some species are showing signs of recovery2. However, there is disagreement about which strategies are the best. For example, marine protected areas are often favoured by conservationists due to their positive impacts on fish abundance, biodiversity and habitats11. When fully protected, they can offer an insight into what the ocean was like before fishing began. However, the creation of such areas may simply move fishing elsewhere and could take jobs away from local fishermen. In many parts of the world, enforcing protected areas without the support and help of local people is very difficult. Other controversial marine protection strategies are also hotly debated. For example, fishing quotas restrict landings of fish beyond specified levels, but often result in excess fish being discarded at sea.  How can we decide on the best strategies for ensuring sustainable seas? Should marine protection strategies be driven by governments or by those ‘on the ground’ (fishermen, local communities and consumers)? Does the best strategy change depending on where we are in the world? Is sustainability enough or should we be aiming to recreate the oceans of the past?

Seas of change

These questions become even more difficult to answer when we consider that the ocean and its ecosystems are in a state of continual change, driven by anthropogenic global warming, ocean acidification and nutrient pollution. Examples of the impacts of such changes include species moving poleward as the oceans warm, destruction of habitats including coral reefs, and the expansion of marine ‘dead zones’, where oxygen levels drop perilously low5. How might these changes affect the fishing industry? And how will our planning and implementation of marine protection strategies have to take these changes into account?

On the 23rd June the British Library will host our 29th TalkScience event: ‘Fishing and marine protection: What’s the catch?’ With the help of our audience, our panel of experts including Dr. Helen Scales, Professor Callum Roberts (University of York), Barrie Deas (NFFO) and Dr. Alasdair Harris (Blue Ventures) will attempt to answer some of the difficult questions posed here. If you would like to be part of the discussion, tickets (£5) can be booked via our website.

 


References with links to the articles and British Library holdings

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/superfoods/pages/is-oily-fish-a-superfood.aspx

[2] FAO, 2014. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014 http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3720e/i3720e01.pdf

[3] D. Pauly, et al., 2002. Towards sustainability in world fisheries. Nature, 418, pp. 689-695, doi: 10.1038/nature01017, BL shelfmark: 6045.000000

[4] J. A. Hutchings, et al., 2010. Trends in the abundance of marine fishes. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 67, pp. 1205–1210 doi: 10.1139/F10-081, BL shelfmark: 3031.490000

[5] C. Roberts, 2012. Ocean of Life: How are seas are changing. Allen Lane, Penguin Publishing. BL shelfmark: General Reference Collection YK.2013.a.1526

[6] D. J. McCauley, et al., 2015. Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean. Science, 347, pp. 1255641, doi: 10.1126/science.1255641

[7] R. A. Myers, et al., 1997. Why do fish stocks collapse? The example of cod in Atlantic Canada. Ecological Applications, 7, pp. 91-106, doi: 10.2307/2269409, BL shelfmark: 3648.855000

[9] N. K. Dulvy, 2014. Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. ELIFE, 3, e00590, doi: 10.7554/eLife.00590

[10] IUCN, 2015. European red list of marine fishes. doi: 10.2779/082723

[11] S. E. Lester and B. S. Halpern, 2008. Biological responses in no-take reserves versus partially protected areas. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 367, pp. 49-56, doi: 10.3354/meps07599, BL shelfmark: 5373.904000 

 

15 May 2015

To survive we must explore

Add comment Comments (0)

If you couldn’t make it to our most recent TalkScience event fear not. The latest instalment in our TalkScience series is now available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

In the 28th event of our popular series we discussed what we have learnt from doing science in extreme environments, and if it is worth the high financial and human cost. The event was chaired by author and broadcaster Dr Gabrielle Walker who kindly stepped in at the last minute. Our expert speakers were Professor Jane Francis, Dr Michael Bravo and Dr Kevin Fong.

As ever the debate was thoughtful and wide ranging. We discussed how extreme environments affect the scientists' ability to actually do the research, and debated whether the development of new technologies is reducing the need for humans in future explorations. We were also privileged to hear our four panellists’ personal experiences of doing science in extreme environments. Jane Francis shared a particularly memorable experience: When she first started researching in the Antarctic female researchers had to wear men’s thermal underwear as female specific kit was not available. As the first female director of the British Antarctic Survey, Jane was pleased to report that this is no longer the case! There was also interest from the audience on the issue of diversity in extreme science. Although historically exploration has been the preserve of white males this is certainly not the case nowadays.

 

We also discussed the unexpected serendipity of historic data informing the present and the challenge of doing extreme science when many projects with more tangible and immediate benefits lack funding. Kevin Fong spoke of his own internal conflict when going to NASA to discuss plans for a multibillion pound mission to Mars while back home he was working in intensive care units where they desperately needed an extra dialysis machine.

At the end of the evening our four panellists were in broad agreement about the importance of extreme exploration with Kevin pithily summing up with:

“To explore we must survive but, as a species, to survive we must explore”.

We are currently hatching plans for TalkScience 29 which will take place at the end of June. Check back soon to find out more.

 Katie Howe