Skip to content

Scientific Alliance Newsletter

18.05.2018
This, I’m sorry to say, is the last Scientific Alliance newsletter I will be writing and sending to you in this way. Time and funding constraints make running a network such as the Scientific Alliance increasingly difficult. Members often give generously of their time and experience but, without more sustained effort, there is relatively little we can do to influence views in comparison to larger organisations with permanent staff. These pieces have been appearing on our blog (scialliance.wordpress.com) for some months now and there may be occasional further pieces posted there as the spirit...
14.05.2018
Climate change, unsurprisingly, continues to generate headlines. However, it rarely makes the front pages anymore; like any issue, there comes a time when the peak has been reached and there simply isn’t the public interest to warrant banner headlines. For activists, this is something of a problem, since they want to keep this topic firmly in the public eye to maintain pressure on politicians to take action. So, with the UK having had an unusually warm May bank holiday Monday, we might have expected stories about how this would increasingly become the norm. But no; most reporting was factual...
04.05.2018
Last week, the crop protection industry suffered a significant but not unexpected blow. A typical headline was EU member states support near-total neonicotinoids ban. In 2013, the use of this popular class of insecticides on flowering crops was banned temporarily, but the latest decision now makes the ban permanent and extends it to non-flowering crops outside greenhouses, because of concerns about carry-over of traces of neonics from treated seed. This has been a major target of campaigners for a number of years, but it has never been possible to garner enough support for such a ban. A major...
27.04.2018
Whatever your feelings about the European Union, it’s undeniable that the bloc is good at setting ambitious targets. Many of these are definitely good ideas, but meeting the goals is generally less successful. In this sense, the Commission appears to act as a high-level think tank, putting out proposals, targets and road maps to catalyse change. The member states, meanwhile, at least pay lip service to the goals, while in practice often not being fully committed to achieving them. Nevertheless, it is arguable that, if such proposals were not made, progress would be slower still. The problem...
19.04.2018
Hans Rosling’s name is not one that is widely known, but it should be. He died last year at what today is a young age – just 68 – but his last book (Factfulness) has recently been published (with his son and daughter as co-authors). He was a physician and statistician and professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute. Bill Gates is quoted by the publishers as saying: “One of the most important books I've ever read - an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” Reviews have been almost universally positive (eg, from the FT, Why the world isn’t nearly as bad as...
13.04.2018
Undeniably we live in interesting times. Whether you consider that a curse or a blessing is probably down to your world view but, in any case, we all have to cope with it. Nearly every change lies somewhere on the grey scale between being beneficial or detrimental. Every development, however well intentioned, has some downside, while even technologies primarily developed for military use have some really useful spinoffs (satellite navigation, for example). What we now call social media is a prime case in point. Facebook allows people to keep in touch and let each other know what they are...
06.04.2018
At one time, many people could be neatly pigeon-holed according to their beliefs. In the 1990s, the great majority of those categorising themselves as environmentalists could reliably be assumed to oppose the use of pesticides, air- and water-pollution from industrial processing, nuclear power and genetically modified crops, with (anthropogenic) climate change rapidly reaching the top of the list. But in the early 21st Century, things are often less clear-cut. But in some circles, if you don’t subscribe to this basket of beliefs, you become persona non gratis in the green movement. Older...
16.03.2018
The number of electric cars sold in Britain has fallen by a third since the start of the year, amid concerns that motorists are being put off by high prices, limited battery range and a lack of roadside charging points. These are the opening words of an article in the Times this week (Electric car sales tumble over price and plugs). The question is, are these just inevitable teething problems or are the plans for a grand phase out of internal combustion engines fatally flawed at this stage of technology development? This is a young market and doubtless prone to hiccups, and a key factor in...
23.02.2018
Last week, I mentioned Elon Musk’s deep pessimism about the impact of artificial intelligence on the human race. I don’t share that pessimism, but it seems to be one of the key motivators of this driven, innovative and (so-far) very successful individual. Musk is one or a kind, combining analysis of problems from first principles (so deciding that space travel should be cheaper and easier than it seemed, for example) with creativity, showmanship plus the essential quality of being able to convince investors to take a chance. He also mixes the ability to take a broad view of complex issues and...
15.02.2018
For decades, writers and film makers have imagined a world in which computers and robots have advanced to the stage where they are, at least in some respects, more capable than their creators. Science fiction allows us to explore both the practical and moral implications of such changes, but we are now perhaps on the cusp of science fiction becoming science fact, when potential problems will become of more than just theoretical importance. Many of the imagined worlds are dystopian and serve as a warning and we should certainly always be aware of the unintended consequences of what we do. But...

Pages