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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

This week, the prestigious US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a report Genetically Engineered Crops – Experience and Prospects. Unfortunately, at $64, the complete report will not be gracing many bookshelves, but the panel of scientists came to some pretty clear conclusions. As their announcement says, they found that “…new technologies in genetic engineering and conventional breeding are blurring the once clear distinctions between these two crop-improvement approaches. In addition, while recognizing the inherent difficulty of...
In our everyday lives, we make certain assumptions that allow us to get on with things without having to decide on every simple issue from scratch. Some assumptions are very well grounded, for example that the Sun will rise and set at known times, that our electricity supply will be there when we want it and that train and bus timetables will be at least approximately right. However, this trait extends far beyond the commonalities of everyday life. Most of us have an opinion on a wide range of topics (there are rather few professional ‘don’t knows’ among us) and in all...

Stifling innovation

06.05.2016
Europe has an ambivalent attitude towards innovation. On one hand, we celebrate the growth of successful businesses and new home-grown products but, on the other, the natural desire to guarantee safety creates barriers that few companies – particularly small, innovative ones – can overcome. The point of balance between innovation and safety varies from sector to sector. In general, we worry less about computers, smart phones and similar hardware. Most of haven’t a clue what goes on behind the screen, but we don’t know what we’d do without them and –...

Carbon budgets

28.04.2016
In November last year, the independent Committee on Climate Change delivered its advice to the Westminster parliament on setting the fifth carbon budget, covering the period 2028-2032. This week, the Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change has recommended acceptance of the budget, to no-one’s great surprise. It has also gone further and proposed a ‘carbon intensity target’ for the power sector of 100g/CO2 per kWh. Under the terms of the Climate Change Act, the government is now obliged to give this budget legal force before the end of June. The country is...
Today, April 22, is Earth Day. Launched in the USA in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson, it follows the proposal the previous year of a day to celebrate the Earth and the concept of peace, to be held of March 21. So, in 1970, there were actually two Earth Days. The US one went international in 1990 and is now marked in virtually every country of the world (although it is unlikely to be at the top of many people’s minds, particularly in less developed countries). It is now coordinated by the Earth Day Network, and this year focusses on trees. But, more than that, it is the day when over...

The power of prayer

15.04.2016
According to a report in the Times this week, Church uses shareholder power to sway oil giant. Of course, the activist investor is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is interesting to see the Church of England enter this particular fray. Many investors are quite passive, ignoring invitations to AGMs (or, at most, casting their proxy votes as the Board recommends), and just selling their shares when they need money or the price is right (even then, I doubt that most small shareholders check the share price frequently). But shareholders are the owners of the company and, as such, have the...
This quote from Chairman Mao – perhaps more correctly let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend – is usually interpreted as a brief experiment with free-ish speech in the early days of the People’s Republic of China. In practice, it was quickly followed by more repression of those who chose to follow this path of ‘rightist deviation’ and some historians consider the campaign a deliberate attempt to flush out opposition. Given the Great Helmsman’s lack of scruples, this does not seem at all unlikely. But let’s be...
Nuclear power seems to be on the brink of an existential crisis, at least in Europe. Construction of the much-trumpeted new Aveva EPR reactor at Olkiluoto (Finland) began in mid-2005. Originally scheduled to be connected to the grid in 2010, it is now at least eight years late, and the estimated cost has escalated from €3 billion (the fixed construction price due to Areva, the main contractor) to €8.5 billion currently. Meanwhile, the same company embarked on building France’s first EPR on the existing Flamanville site at the end of 2007, for a projected cost of €3.3...
As the saying goes, forecasting is never easy, particularly about the future. On one hand, studies of what the future may bring are often constrained by our current knowledge, which inevitably sees progress as a linear extrapolation of recent trends. On the other hand, claims are often made about the importance of emerging technologies and how much they will shape our lives. Usually, neither is right. Instead disruptive technologies come along and lead us along paths we cannot foresee, but those technologies are rarely the ones that are trumpeted as the way forward. The reasons for this...
Undeniably, our species has shaped the Earth’s environment, and our first forays into near Space may expand our influence significantly, perhaps even later this century. But will geologists of the far future look back through the strata and see the present period as being quite different from what went before? That is the question which is being addressed by the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphyunder the auspices of the International Union of Geological Sciences. The term Athropocene was coined at the turn of the century and is used generally to designate the period over...

Current Issues


RIP Bob Carter

Prof Bob Carter, who eloquently put forward evidence-based arguments sceptical of mainstream climate science, died suddenly in January. For an equally eloquent tribute, see

A clock tune in honor of a true man of true science.

What's New

26 May 2016: See email exchange on GM crops issue with Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association.