Diversity and blogging

Rebecca Nesbit is one of the tutors on the upcoming Society of Biology Writing for a non-specialist audience course.

Rebecca Nesbit, Society of BiologyDiversity was a long way from my mind when, during my PhD, I made my first explorations in writing popular science. At first, my writing simply a way to discover new science and share it in a more engaging way than I had done in my materials and methods chapter.

Now that writing has shaped my career, I find blogging a powerful way to explore a huge range of topics, and diversity is one of them. Read more »

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Listen to the debate: Eradicating Malaria: Can we do it? Should we do it?

2014 SBDP AS OF 19 OCTOBER 655In 2007, Bill and Melinda Gates committed themselves to eliminating malaria worldwide. Today, it has been eliminated in 111 countries but can it be eradicated worldwide? If it can, would the resources be better spent on other developing world health initiatives? Would controlling the disease be more beneficial than elimination?

During Biology Week 2014 we invited world leaders in Malaria research to the Royal Institution to debate vaccination, treatment, mosquitoes and policy.

Watch a power point presentation to accompany the debate and listen to the full debate… Read more »

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Improving life with cystic fibrosis

By Grace Paget, science writer

CF patient with her medication. ©Cystic Fibrosis Trust

CF patient with her medication. ©Cystic Fibrosis Trust

Before I started volunteering for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust I had some knowledge of the genetic disorder from learning about it in biology lessons, but I had very little understanding of just how much of an impact it has on the people who have it and their families.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a life-shortening condition that cannot be developed or caught as those who have it inherit a faulty gene. Around one in 25 people in the UK carry the faulty gene and as the condition is recessive, if both parents have this gene there is a 25% chance that their child will have cystic fibrosis and a 50% chance that their child will be a carrier.

This gene is known as the CFTR (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator) and is responsible for instructing the production of a protein channel, which controls the movement of salt and water in and out of cells in the body. If this gene is faulty then the protein may either be missing or non-functional; resulting in the condition, which causes the lungs and digestive system to become so clogged with mucus that breathing and digesting food are made extremely difficult. Read more »

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Genetic testing – how much would you want to know?

EmmaBy Emma Kelson AMSB, training officer at the Society of Biology

Given the choice, would you want to know whether you are likely to suffer from a deadly disease in the future? For those who are curious, you can now get some insights by using the genetic testing kit ’23andme’, which has recently launched in the UK.

23andMe is named after the 23 chromosomes that contain genetic information (in the form of DNA) in each human cell. The company describes itself as a “personalised DNA service” and aims to inform individuals about their genetic material (genome). This is linked to the growing discipline of personalised medicine, which looks at the genetic profile of an individual and uses it to provide tailored medical treatment[1].

It’s very simple – for £125 you can order a DNA collection kit online, provide a saliva sample and send the kit back to be analysed[2]. A report is then generated, which contains information on over a hundred different health and personal characteristics, including the risk factors for diseases such as cancer and the presence of genetic variants linked to hereditary conditions such as cystic fibrosis[3]. Read more »

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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. 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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