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Archive for September, 2010

Irish science blogs – from science.ie

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Irish science blogs.

From science.ie

Irish Science Blogs
Published 29 September 2010

There are lots of Irish science blogs nowadays where you can keep up with what’s happening in the world of science and find out what issues people are discussing.

These  bloggers range from scientists and science teachers to members of the public who have an interest in science.

To give you a flavour of what’s out there, have a look at these ones we’ve come across…

Antimatter, by physics lecturer and Science Ambassador Cormac O’Raifeartaigh
http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com

Chris Horn, leading Irish electronics engineer, entrepreneur and STEM policy expert
http://chrisjhorn.wordpress.com

Communicate Science, by our Science Ambassador Eoin Lettice
http://www.communicatescience.eu

The Frog Blog – St Columba’s College Science blog
http://blog.sccscience.com

Irish Science – this is by a group of contributors
https://irishscience.wordpress.com

James McInerney, evolutionary biologist
http://jamesmcinerney.ie

Karlin Lillington, technology journalist
http://www.techno-culture.com/

Mary Mulvihill, science journalist
http://marymulvihill.net

Michael Seery, lecturer in physical chemistry (his blog is called “Is This Going To Be On The Exam?”)
http://www.michaelseery.com/home

Science Communication Review by Diarmaid Mac Mathúna
http://www.sciencecommunicationreview.com

The Science Gallery blog
http://sciencegallery.com/blog

Science Line by science journalist Cormac Sheridan
http://science-line.blogspot.com

Science Spinning, by Seán Duke
http://seanduke.wordpress.com

The Strange Quark by Marie Boran
http://www.thestrangequark.com

TeachNet Learning Blog
http://blog.teachnet.ie

Think For Yourself by physics teacher Noel Cunningham
http://thinkforyourself.ie

Using ICT in Further Education by Patricia Donaghy, ICT teacher
http://pdonaghy.edublogs.org

Last but not least, don’t forget to check out our own blog at MyScience.ie
http://www.myscience.ie

US school ranking names no winners: Nature News

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

US school ranking names no winners : Nature News.

A non-ranking ranking system for Graduate education in the USA.

A quote:

Graduate programmes are assessed and measured, but stale data could reduce impact of long-awaited report.

Which US chemistry department is the biggest? As of autumn 2005, the University of California, Berkeley, had a whopping 406 graduate students. That must be some departmental picnic. Which ecology programme takes the longest? The median time to complete a PhD degree in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at Tulane University in Louisiana is 8.5 years. Which genetics programme has the highest average number of citations per faculty publication? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge dominates, with a knockout 10.08. Which physics programme is the best? A new report that supplies all of the other answers doesn’t make the call.

Released on 28 September, the long-awaited National Academies study on US PhD programmes, A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States (see go.nature.com/tqvokc), is notable for not ranking programmes in 1-2-3 order. But it aims to offer comparisons that are detailed enough both to help students determine where to apply and to help job-seekers judge offers. The findings could also guide spending by administrators at a state or school level — whether by lavishing funds on standout programmes or by spending money to improve less-successful ones.

More at the NAS and the rest of this report via the link at top.

Science is Vital: The economic return argument in favour of investment in research

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Science is Vital (a new UK organisation opposed to cuts in the science budget there) offer a very interesting economic rationale for investing in research on their site [post reproduced in full]. Many of these points are just as important here in Ireland. There are lots of links below to actual evidence on the importance of investment in R&D.

Point 1. Investment in science and engineering skills and research yields broad and historically proven economic returns. Such investment, if made now, could drive the growth needed to secure a strong economic recovery:

  • By showing a strong and sustained commitment to science and engineering, the UK can attract and retain excellent and internationally mobile scientists and engineers and the industries that seek to employ them, which will give immediate gains through tax revenues and employment.
  • The UK’s economic climate, funding, and the reputations of its universities, all help to attract more and more overseas students – 250,000 in 2008/09, who contributed about £5bn to the UK economy. (BIS SET statistics)
  • 180,000 people gain from working in R&D. (BIS SET statistics)

Longer-term:

  • Finland and Korea responded to their economic crises in the 1990s by investing heavily in R&D while severely constraining public spending; these investments helped their strong regrowth in knowledge-based economies. The UK has not yet seized the opportunity, still available, to invest in science and engineering to accelerate the recovery
  • Multifactor productivity (MFP) reflects the extent to which an economy can derive GDP growth from a certain level of labour and capital.  A 2004 OECD analysis estimated that a 1% increase in business R&D increases MFP by 0.13% and a 1% increase in public R&D increases MFP by 0.17%.
  • A 2008 medical research report estimated that every £1 spent on public or charitably funded research gave a return of 30p a year in perpetuity from direct or indirect GDP gains, on top of the direct gains of the research.
  • Corporate investment in R&D brings a return of around 50% to the public. This compares to a private return of around 20% captured by investors themselves.

Point 2. The Government is keen to boost confidence in the UK by making decisive cuts. But cuts in the science and engineering sectors would have the opposite effect, damaging investor confidence, reducing levels of investment and impacting the quality of higher education:

  • Science in the UK already operates as a ‘Big Society’, with public investment and private enterprise strongly interacting. Cuts to academia  or innovation support could have unforseen and damaging consequences due to the links between them.
  • Investment in science cannot simply be turned off and then turned back on again a few years later. As former Science Minister Lord Waldegrave said, “If we cut science now, just as the benefits of nearly twenty years of consistent policy are really beginning to bear fruit, we will seriously damage our economic prospects.”
  • The total budget for R&D is an important signal to investors and researchers. If the UK is not perceived to support R&D then they move to more favourable countries, as UK business leaders have previously warned. The UK currently receives a very high proportion of its R&D funds from foreign owned firms (17%), which may be even more responsive to market conditions than UK-based companies.
  • If research projects are cut short, this wastes money that has already been spent and risks mothballing large-scale projects such as the Diamond Light Source or Isis.
  • Reducing investment in R&D would reduce the potential for economic growth. There will be fewer breakthroughs, and less development of them into beneficial products. The general public will notice falling productivity, given the level of media interest in and coverage of scientific and medical discoveries, as well as new (including green) technologies.
  • The UK’s reputation in science and engineering has already been damaged (e.g. physics funding crisis, and cuts already announced). We can recover with prompt action, but if not done soon, it will be hard to regain our previously enviable reputation.
  • Reduced funding for higher education teaching and research has already resulted in job losses. As the teaching of high-cost science and engineering courses is already under-resourced, and some universities have accepted unfunded places, further financial pressure is likely to lead to departmental closures.
  • Universities increasingly bolster their finances by recruiting overseas students, who bring with them high levels of fees. If the UK becomes less desirable, then this income will fall.

Longer-term dangers:

  • If the capacity and quality of the higher education system is reduced, a generation of less-skilled graduates is the result.  Without enough people trained in science, technology, engineering and maths, it will be difficult to retain industrial investment in the UK.
  • If university funding is lowered, universities will scale back on renewing and upgrading their teaching and research facilities, reducing the value of the skills of new graduates.

Point 3. UK science and engineering is already extremely efficient:

Nearly 30% of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is produced by sectors intensive in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Yet the UK government spends a smaller proportion of its GDP on research than any other nation in the G7, bar Italy. We rank 14th in the OECD under the same metric – just behind Belgium and Canada, and on par with the EU27 average. Despite this, the UK:

  • Leads the world in a huge range of scientific disciplines.
  • Produces 12% of global citations with around 1% of the population.
  • Is home to 29 of the world’s top 200 universities, including three of the top ten (THE rankings).

This is possible through UK science being very efficient:

  • The UK is 3rd in the world in terms of citations per researcher
  • The UK is ranked first in the G8 for scientific papers produced as a proportion of GDP
  • We overwhelmingly focus on world-class research. About 90% of research funds (£980m out of £1095m) from HEFCE go to 3* or 4* research (defined as ‘internationally excellent’ and ‘world-leading’, respectively).
  • Research council grants are extremely competitive. For instance, success rates of 19% at the MRC (down from 21% in 2008-9) and 22% at the BBSRC mean that thousands of proposals are rejected. In 2003, the overall grant success rate across research councils was around 40% – it has now fallen to around 20% (in 2008).

While efficiency savings in R&D still need to be made, these savings must be reinvested in science and engineering.

Point 4. The Government needs to develop a long-term and stable policy framework to make the UK a country where people and companies want to do science and engineering, enabling researchers to innovate, and encouraging private investment:

  • Analysis of over 100 UK case studies by the Russell Group found that it took an average of 9 years from an initial discovery to produce a license or other measurable impact (e.g., significant commercial investment in a spin-out company). Given that the research cycle can have a decades-long timeframe, the public environment in which research plans are made needs to be of the same order.
  • Private investments, research programmes and careers are reliant on a long-term, coherent, and credible policy framework. Instability will reduce the ability of these individuals to do their most high-impact and valuable work.
  • A lack of long-term investment framework will compound
  • In spring 2010, the most important organisations in UK science urged the government to develop long-term plans. The Royal Society’s Scientific Century report urged the government to outline spending plans over a 15-year period to provide “a clear, long-term framework within which to plan, build, and compete globally”.
  • The House of Lords Science & Technology Committee recommended that the government adopt and articulate a long-term vision for UK Research, and the Council for Science and Technology talked of a vision for the future in which the UK research base is successful and globally competitive 20 years out. They urged that, “the Government needs to develop consistent, focused long-term industrial strategies”.

Point 5. Investment in science must be increased, or at the very least maintained,  it order for the UK to remain internationally competitive

  • The UK invested 1.8% of its GDP in R&D in 2007. This is short of the UK’s own target of 2.5%, and further behind the EU target of 3%.8. The new Government needs to commit to the challenging goal of at least 2.5% of GDP to be spent on R&D from all sources by 2014.
  • The UK has an excellent track record, with four of the world’s top 30 research universities. But this excellence is threatened by rapidly increasing investment overseas, particularly in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, that could grow into research giants. Indeed, the UK’s share of scientific publications fell over the last decade, while China’s quadrupled.
  • Other world leaders have set out the case for investing in science and engineering.
  • The advantages that the UK built upon – including an early scientific and industrial base, the English language, and openness to international investors and workers – will not sustain our excellence without a strong new commitment to the future.
  • Government Announces New Research Funding Partnership with the Wellcome Trust

    September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

    A press release from SFI:

    Ministers welcome joint funding deal boost for pioneering biomedical research

    Wednesday, September 29th 2010: Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney T.D., and Minister for Labour Affairs and Public Service Transformation, Dara Calleary T.D., have welcomed the announcement today of a partnership agreement between Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Health Research Board (HRB), with the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the UK.

    The new SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership will mean that the prestigious Wellcome Trust will jointly fund biomedical researchers in Ireland with Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board.

    Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney T.D. described the forging of the new arrangement as “a significant occasion for health research in Ireland”. She added “Vibrant health research is critical to how we generate new ways to care for patients, advance the delivery of our health services, and contribute to our economic development.  This agreement will add to the international standing of Ireland in health research and increase our attractiveness as a location for research and development in biomedical and lifesciences.  Today’s strategic partnership with the Wellcome Trust represents a significant boost for the entire spectrum of Irish health research.

    Speaking at the announcement of the new partnership, Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “We are delighted to enter into this partnership with Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board. By working together, our joint funding will support the best scientists and clinical researchers in Ireland, ensuring that biomedicine in the country remains globally competitive.”

    Commenting on the importance of the agreement, Minister for Labour Affairs & Public Service Transformation, Dara Calleary T.D., said “For Ireland’s smart economy to properly manifest itself in our day-to-day lives, excellence in science, health and engineering R&D must be identified and given every opportunity to progress and prosper. The signing of this collaborative funding deal is a major endorsement of Ireland’s research potential, and will greatly assist its connectivity with the international research community and, particularly, its engagement with the commercial sector, both here and abroad.”

    The announcement of the agreement was also attended by Prof Pat Fottrell, Chairperson, Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Life Sciences at Science Foundation and Mr Enda Connolly, CEO of the Health Research Board.

    About the Wellcome Trust

    The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk

    This is a news website article about a scientific finding | Martin Robbins | Science | guardian.co.uk

    September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

    This is a news website article about a scientific finding | Martin Robbins | Science | guardian.co.uk.

    How to do scientific journalism:

    This is a news website article about a scientific paper

    In the standfirst I will make a fairly obvious pun about the subject matter before posing an inane question I have no intention of really answering: is this an important scientific finding?
    In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of “scare quotes” to ensure that it’s clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.

    In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research “challenges”.

    If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.

    This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like “the scientists say” to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist.

    Move via link above.

    Europe geographically stereotyped: some nifty geographical data visualisation

    September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

    Europe geographically stereotyped (via Flowing Data):

    Graphic designer Yanko Tsvetkov takes such notions of Europe in his series of stereotype maps, which themselves are stereotypes of stereotypes.

    Original here (with high res maps).

    Op-Ed Contributors – Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend – NYTimes.com

    September 26, 2010 Leave a comment

    Op-Ed Contributors – Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend – NYTimes.com.

    A quote:

    Advice for freshmen from the people who actually grade their papers and lead their class discussions.

    Universities are places where facts are made. Research is a collaborative process, so scientists need lab assistants, humanities researchers need library aides and graduate students need all the help they can get. A curious, competent undergraduate can always find work assisting a researcher.

    Regardless of the field and the specific project, helping them helps you. The obvious benefits are new skills and invaluable experience. But there is also something powerful in seeing how the right experimental or analytical approach can sort through a mess of observations and opinion to identify real associations between phenomena, like a gene variant and a disease, or a financial tool and the availability of credit. With a window into the world of research, you will find yourself thinking more critically, accepting fewer assertions at face value and perhaps developing an emboldened sense of what you can accomplish.

    Most important: research experience shows you how knowledge is produced. There are worse ways to prepare for life in an information age.

    — AMAN SINGH GILL, Ph.D. student in the ecology and evolution department at Stony Brook University