Easy Guide to Fossil Hunting

By Grace Paget, science writer and interim communications officer for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Grace (3)Fossil hunting is a hobby that can be engaged in by all, expert or enthusiast you just need to know where to go and what to look out for!

If you fancy a day at the beach the Jurassic Coast is a good place to begin. Ammonites are a common find on the pebble-covered shores of Dorset.

Fossils are the remains or impression made by prehistoric plants or animals created when bones, shell or traces of indentation are embedded in rock and preserved. Usually, fossils form when remains are quickly buried so that they are limited from the decay and decomposition processes. Fossilisation, in most cases, occurs when the remains are preserved in sediments underwater and gradually washed up after being untouched for hundreds of millions of years. This is why we often find fossils around coastal areas.

IMG_1278For beginners, a comfortable pair of walking shoes and an identification booklet should be adequate to get started with. Read more »

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Securing the future of our natural capital: a 25 year strategy

Written by Ben Connor, policy officer at the British Ecological Society. This piece was originally posted on the BES blog.

forestA comprehensive 25-year strategy to protect and enhance England’s natural capital is required if the Government is to meet its commitment for this generation to be the first to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited. Business as usual is not an option, with long-term trends indicating that our natural capital is in decline, presenting a profound risk to our future wellbeing and prosperity. New legislation, backed by close collaboration between the public sector, business and civil society, will be required to ensure that this strategy is delivered.

Those were the headline recommendations of the third and final report of the Natural Capital Committee, released yesterday and formally launched at the Royal Society last night. The report represents the culmination of three years’ work by the Committee – whose members include BES past-President Professor Georgina Mace and Council member Professor Rosemary Hails – which was established to provide expert advice to the Government on the state of natural capital in England, and how action to protect and improve it should be prioritised. As Oliver Letwin MP, Cabinet Office Minister for Government Policy, highlighted at the report launch, the Committee’s work is indicative of the extent to which the natural capital approach to integrating the environment and the economy has entered mainstream thinking.

Read more »

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What does a scientist look like?

By Dr Catherine Ball, science policy advisor at the Society of Biology and Biochemical Society


If I asked you to think of a ‘typical scientist’ what would you imagine?

It is a sad truth that, although we have come a long way, stereotypes can still dominate.

As a policy advisor, part of my work focuses on promoting diversity and inclusion in the science community. This involves gathering information and data to understand which groups are under represented in which areas, providing support to these groups, and also looking at the practices of the Society itself to ensure that we are open and inclusive.

We’re committed to promoting greater workforce diversity and believe that there shouldn’t be a ‘typical’ scientist; it could be anyone. It could be you!

How diverse is the STEM workforce?

STEM means science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A number of groups, including women, ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and those of low socio-economic status, are under represented (1). For example, black and minority ethnic (BME) men are 28% less likely to work in STEM than their white counterparts and disabled students are 57% less likely to take up postgraduate STEM study than non-disabled students (2). Read more »

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Prioritising dementia in an ageing population

By Ariana Gatt, a Neuroscience PhD student at King’s College London

arianaThe world is ageing, and at a pretty fast rate. On a global scale the human race is living longer. We have better health care, for example we have eradicated smallpox, and are close to getting rid of other deadly diseases such as Polio that used to be a widespread cause of childhood mortality. Additionally, we are better vaccinated and have greater access to antibiotics. However, fertility rate is on the decline; women are having fewer children and therefore the world demographic curve is shifting towards the ‘older’ end of the spectrum. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be 2 billion people aged 60 and over by the year 2050; which means approximately 20% of the world’s population will be of retirement age.

Unfortunately, a longer lifespan does not directly correlate with good health in older age. Read more »

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Conspiracy theories and the rise of anti-science

By Tom Ireland, managing editor at the Society of Biology and freelance journalist

SONY DSCWhen I was a teenager I loved a good conspiracy theory. I was obsessed with the X-Files and watched dodgy American documentaries about Roswell and Watergate and Kennedy’s assassination. I even had the famous ‘I want to believe’ poster on my wall.

Fast forward to 2014 and conspiracies theories are not quite as cool. They’ve become inflated and angry, and many are focused on discrediting people working on pressing global issues like climate change, vaccination, or feeding the world’s population.

All sorts of people are now implicated in these theories: researchers, journalists, feminists, drug developers… This year even video games critics and Ebola aid workers were inexplicably drawn into absurd-sounding global conspiracies. Thanks to modern communications, people in these industries can be discredited, harassed and even driven out of their jobs and homes by organised units of web-users in tinfoil hats. Read more »

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Science and Innovation strategy: proceed with care

By Dr Laura Bellingan FSB, Director of Science Policy at the Society of Biology

Dr Laura Bellingan FRB

Dr Laura Bellingan FSB

Research in the UK attracts public and private investment because it is seen, and a high proportion of it can be measured, as excellent. This is a judgement that takes time to develop and is acceptable as robust because it is applied over a reasonable length of time – in the case of the Research Excellence Framework, five years. Building a research base, team and reputation clearly takes time and resources – not surprisingly we and others are calling for strong, assured and long-term investment in science research – indeed stronger, more assured and longer-term!

The Government’s Science and Innovation strategy published on December 17th sets out that it is “underpinned by 5 key principles for all scientific research and development in the future:

  • excellence
  • agility
  • collaboration
  • place
  • openness

From these principles the strategy focuses on the Government’s priority areas, how to nurture scientific and innovative talent, where it will invest in their infrastructure, how it will support research and catalyse innovation, and in which international projects and priorities it will invest.” Read more »

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Policy Lates: Dodging a Biological Bullet

The Society’s latest Policy Lates event ‘Dodging a Biological Bullet: What can we learn from the US and Europe about Biosecurity?’ saw international experts come together to discuss what should be done about dual-use research, which has the potential to be misused for harmful purposes.

For an introduction to dual-use and biosecurity read ‘Dual-use for Dummies’ on our blog.
This event built on the biosecurity debate at a previous Policy Lates ‘Bioscience to bioweapons: how do we benefit from open dual-use research while avoiding misuse?’


Professor Mike Imperiale – Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Michigan, United States. Read Mike’s article ‘What are we pausing? on our blog. In his talk he gives a history of biosecurity in the US and how they have responded to the H5N1 avian influenza controversy. Read more »

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Birute Galdikas: Born to be wild

By Gabriele Butkute, Student Enterprise & Marketing Intern at London Metropolitan University

People who live in the western countries rarely think about rainforests, orangutans, or the fact that they are going extinct, it just feels too far away. Well, unless they are sitting in comfortable IMAX cinema chairs munching popcorn and watching a documentary.

Image by Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

Dr Birute Galdikas. Image by Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

Renowned scientist and primatologist, Dr Birute Galdikas was featured in the film Born to be Wild, where she spoke about her passion for orangutans and Borneo rainforest and her efforts to keep them safe.

Dr Galdikas was born in Germany in 1946, when her parents were en route to Canada from Lithuania. Having spent her childhood in Canada, she later went on to study at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and zoology, followed by a master’s degree and a doctorate in anthropology.

Birute approached anthropologist Dr Louis Leakey to discuss her desire to study orangutans, and eventually, three years later, he found the funding to facilitate her research in Borneo, Indonesia, as he had previously helped both, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey in their studies on chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. Birute’s goal was to learn more about the origin of human behaviour by studying orangutans. However, the task turned out to be much bigger. She says, “Even though I’m a scientist, the animals I’m studying are going extinct so I’ve had to get involved in political activism.” Read more »

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How does current research culture affect science and scientists?

By Dr Laura Bellingan FSB, Director of Science Policy at the Society of Biology

Dr Laura Bellingan was part of the steering group

Dr Laura Bellingan was part of the report’s Steering Group

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics have published the report of a project that explored the wide range of influences that act upon science researchers and affect their practice.

For researchers, the expectations that they place upon themselves and feel are applied by others; the working practices that they develop or learn; the opportunities or limitations defined by their available funding and career structure, are among a wide range of influences that make up the environment in which they work. Influences and experiences also help to mould the overall culture for research and in turn the research that is carried out and how it is recorded and used.

Given the importance of science to so many spheres it is vital that the culture for research is carefully observed and that all efforts are made to ensure that it develops to support the production of high quality science and an equitable researcher community. Read more »

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Location, location, habitat – who shares our neighbourhood?

By David Urry, regional coordinator for the Society of Biology.
Applications for the regional grant scheme close on 12th January 2015.
Please contact David to find out more or to get involved with running activities in your local area.

bug box 1Curiosity is an innate and essential human quality. It is also the main driver for scientific endeavour. A healthy nosiness is an important tool in the arsenal of any budding scientist trying to make sense of the world around them, so I am delighted to report that the art and science of curiosity is alive and well in rural West Norfolk.

Under the guidance of two local biologists, Dr Ray Mathias and Mr Dennis Doman MSB CBiol, around a hundred local primary school children, and their parents and teachers were encouraged to act as nosey neighbours, discovering who or what they share their local habitat with. No stone was left unturned, no quadrat left uncounted, and last week I had the pleasure of visiting the colourful exhibition of results created by the schools. I attended a special assembly at St Andrew’s CE VA Primary School in North Pickenham, where aspiring young biologists expertly reported upon their findings and those of the neighbouring school, Caston CE VA Primary. Read more »

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