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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

18.01.2008
Can science be democratic? Euractiv.com, a Brussels-based news and comment service, recently reported an interview with French philosopher Michel Serres. According to him, "Politicians and scientists need to listen to the people and strive towards more democracy in science by means of interactive new technologies such as blogs." But can science really be democratic? Should it be democratic? The issue highlighted by M Serres is essentially that non-scientists have concerns about scientific developments and therefore need to have their questions answered rather than simply have the science...
11.01.2008
- Nuclear power in the UK - The Tata Nano - The success of GM crops Nuclear Power in the UK The bullet has finally been bitten. The big news on the energy front in the UK this week is the government's formal backing for a new generation of nuclear power stations. This has been a long time coming, but for several years this decision has been a question of when rather than if. It represents a turnaround from the position in the 2003 Energy White Paper, when the official government position was anti-nuclear and renewables were the path for the future. Not that renewables will be ignored,...
14.12.2007
- EU funding of lobby groups - Offshore wind farms - Passing the baton to Beddington EU funding of lobby groups A recent BBC radio 4 programme (The Investigation, 6th December) looked into the funding of environmental lobby groups by the European Commission, and reported that a total of 40 organisations received over €7.7 million from DG Environment in 2006. Nearly half of this went to the Green 10, a network of groups which actively lobbies the Commission, Parliament and Council and includes WWF and Friends of the Earth Europe. As has previously been reported, FoE Europe receives about...
07.12.2007
- The $100 laptop: is it appropriate? - LEDs: the future of lighting? - The dangers of coal The $100 laptop: is it appropriate? The charity One Laptop Per Child, which first mooted the idea of a robust, affordable laptop for developing countries five years ago, is now in a position to supply them. Production has started in China, and the first order has been placed, by the government of Uruguay. Officially called the XO, it can no longer in truth be described as the "$100 laptop" since raw material costs have now driven the selling price to $188. Nevertheless, economies of scale will...
30.11.2007
- Scientists plead for rational approval of GM crops - GDP and wellbeing - Can Europe be the world leader in energy technologies? Scientists plead for rational approval of GM crops A few weeks ago, it was reported that EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas had proposed to reject approval applications for two varieties of insect-resistant, genetically modified maize. This is despite a positive recommendation from EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, and also in the teeth of opposition from Commissioners Mandelson (Trade), Verheugen (Industry) and Fischer Boel (Agriculture). On top...
23.11.2007
African agriculture African agriculture This week saw the launch by the Royal Society of Chemistry of the Pan African Chemistry Network, initially setting up a hub at the university of Nairobi with a grant from Syngenta. The intention is to help the continent – particularly sub-Saharan Africa – meet the Millennium Development Goals. This first centre will focus in particular on sustainable agriculture and food security. This prompts a set of questions: Can such an initiative really make a difference in a continent where the lives of the majority seem to have got worse in an otherwise...
16.11.2007
- Energy security - Fuel from algae - Galileo: what goes around, comes around Energy insecurity On November 7th, the International Energy Agency launched its latest World Energy Outlook report, with a projection that energy demand by 2030 could be 50% higher than today's. A large part of this inexorable growth will inevitably come from the world's two largest countries, China and India, both developing rapidly and investing heavily in new generating capacity to meet demand. With populations of about 1.3 and 1.1 billion respectively, they make up 37% of the world total, and any increase in...
09.11.2007
- A breakthrough for GM food? - The trouble with science A breakthrough for GM food? In a BBC Radio programme (Hardtalk, 26th October) Mark Price, the managing director of Waitrose, was interviewed by Stephen Sackur. A rather interesting discussion ensued during the interview, initiated by the following statement from Mr Price: " For instance, it may be counter intuitive, but the carbon footprint of organics is more than GM crops. And that's a real dilemma because people say they want organic because it tastes better, because it's free of pesticide, but, from a carbon footprint point of...
03.11.2007
- Is organic food really better for you? - France takes a step back on agricultural biotechnology - A car-free Olympics Is organic food really better for you? This week there have been reports of a study which purports to show that organic food really is more nutritious, rather than the "lifestyle choice" which David Miliband suggested. The four year Low Input Quality Food project has been funded by the EU to the tune of £12 million and is coordinated by Professor Carlo Liefert of Newcastle University. The university's research farm was one of the sites where trials were carried out....
27.10.2007
- Science and consensus - Crop protection in Europe - Organic standards Science and consensus It is true that science progresses via the formation of consensus: over time the vast majority of scientists accept the evidence which builds up and consider a hypothesis as valid. It is equally true that science also progresses when that consensus is challenged by new observations or hypotheses. Most scientists work on incremental advancements, increasing the body of knowledge within or on the borders of an existing consensus. A minority, whether by luck or judgement, come up with consensus-...

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