MRC to revamp image

May 16, 2003

Colin Blakemore, the Oxford physiologist whose brushes with animal rights activists have made him one of the best-known scientists in Britain, is to be the next chief executive of the Medical Research Council.

Professor Blakemore, Waynflete professor of physiology and director of the MRC Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, will take over from George Radda on October 1.

He admitted that his objectives would be coloured by the Commons science and technology committee's highly critical report on the MRC. One of his two priorities will be to reverse negative perceptions of the council.

Professor Blakemore said: "It is too early to judge the damage from that report. The initial reaction in the media and the academic community has been rather negative." He was keen to reverse such perceptions and to demonstrate that the council was open, transparent and willing to listen.

He wanted to run a series of "very open" road shows to enable people to feed in their ideas as well as criticisms about the MRC.

The animal rights campaign against him was sparked by his research on kittens, investigating the changes that occurred in the brain as a result of visual disturbances early in life, which involved sewing their eyelids shut.

He is a firm believer in the researcher's duty to talk about this sort of research, and he said he was keen to build on the MRC's efforts to inform the public.

Central to the science and technology committee's report on the MRC were accusations of poor financial management, with a large number of top-quality grant proposals being turned down.

Professor Blakemore acknowledged this as a serious concern. He was worried that the council's considerable commitments to its own institutes meant that responsive mode funding was hit hard by any fluctuations, and he was keen to review the balance between institute and responsive mode funding.

He also wanted to look at ways of helping young scientists by addressing issues such as short-term contracts, poor salaries and lack of career structure.

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