Science promotion penalties must go

September 29, 2000

Lord Sainsbury, the minister for science, has admitted that proposals calling for scientists to act as communicators and ambassadors of science need more consideration if researchers are not to be penalised for their initiative.

Lord Sainsbury spoke about the proposals of the latest science white paper, Excellence and Opportunity, for the first time since its launch in July at the BA Science Festival. The paper proposes initiatives to engage scientists in a dialogue with schools and the public.

Lord Sainsbury said: "To retain public support, scientists must continually reach out to new audiences, generate more interest in science, listen to people's views and show the next generation of young people there are few things as rewarding (as science)."

However, scientists have pointed out that measures are needed to ensure that scientists are not penalised in their research ratings for devoting time to promoting science rather than doing research.

Lord Sainsbury felt that such considerations did not deter many people from becoming involved. But he did agree that scientists could be penalised for devoting time to promotion. "I think it's a question of getting one's act together and organising this so that people do know that if they do this, their time is really effectively used, and it has to be valued."

Pat Bateson, biological secretary of the Royal Society, said: "I think one of the major stumbling blocks will be the research assessment exercise. They say they're going to give some account to these things, but I'm not sure people believe it."

The next RAE could address this issue more formally. "We would certainly favour that," Professor Bateson said.

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