The British Association for the Advancement of Science, which meets next week in Salford, has a simple mission: to create excitement about science.
The task ought to be painless enough in an era of massive public interest in science. Issues from stem cells to a possible asteroid collision with Earth fill newspapers, and every bookshop has a shelf of popular science titles. And although the BA has not shared in the recent growth of popular interest in science, its imminent move to the Science Museum in London will put it in the right place to make the most of the opportunities. The BA has always outperformed its small size and resources. It does far more than merely holding the annual conference with which it is synonymous. But its need for funds means that it is often too close to sponsors whose main interest is in science that might lead to business success. This year's focus, on science for sustainability, is a promising improvement and may allow a wider public to be engaged.
This is especially necessary at a time when industry is becoming more reluctant to spend heavily on research, and when science is facing a difficult government spending review. The BA's task of showing that new knowledge is exciting in its own right, and central to modern society, has never been more vital.