The Royal Society savaged by MPs

May 10, 2002

The 340-year-old Royal Society has been forced to defend itself during a 75-minute grilling by MPs.

Royal Society president Lord May faced a barrage of questions from the Common's science and technology committee on Wednesday. The committee is investigating the funding of the UK's learned societies.

Committee members quizzed Lord May, vice-president Dame Julia Higgins and Stephen Cox, executive secretary, on claims that the Royal Society is elitist.

Committee chairman Ian Gibson, who admitted he had once received a Royal Society research fellowship, asked the witnesses to justify the £26 million received by the society this year from public funds. He suggested that the research councils could run the society's research fellowship schemes.

Lord May said the society was elitist in the same way that the England football team was elitist. But he added that the society's selection process was more democrat than Sven Goran Eriksson's.

Dame Julia admitted that only the Indian and French equivalents of the Royal Society had lower proportions of women fellows. But she said that it reflected the number of women at the top of UK science.

The society admitted that it had no ethnic minority monitoring process.

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