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SENSE ABOUT SCIENCE

Some current projects

Public-Good Plant Breeding

Early in 2003 Sense About Science organised an event on ‘Public-Good Plant Breeding: what are the international priorities?’, in association with the Natural History Museum, the BBSRC and the John Innes Centre. With addresses from Professors MS Swaminathan, Peter Raven and Phil Dale, it contributed to an international debate among plant scientists and development organisations on the extension of the Green Revolution, the priority needs to be met and the scientific capacity to deliver. This initiative is now being taken on and developed in the UK by the national plant research institutes with ongoing input from the Sense About Science network of scientists and NGOs.

To watch videos of the presentations, please click here

The meeting arose from the pressing need for international debate about the current challenges and opportunities for plant breeding as the Green Revolution reaches its limits. Growing pressures on the global food supply are creating further demands on land for food and animal feed production. While some regions over produce, others remain unable to grow what they need.

At the same time, we are seeing the development of new crop varieties to address yield, pests, diseases, salinity, drought and environmental impacts. We see new techniques for innovating plant varieties, and the development of plants with new roles, such as for alternative energy sources and as hosts for vaccine and antibody production.

The meeting on 22nd May was just the start. It established that it is time to review plant breeding internationally; to think beyond the confines of narrow arguments about some techniques and beyond what appears currently possible to fund or commercialise. To consider plant breeding outside of these short-term constraints needs an international discussion on the problems to solve and the scientific capacity to do it.

The discussion is open until 2004. To receive further information about contributing to this discussion, send an email with your details to Enquiries@senseaboutscience.org.

Peer Review

Sense About Science established a multi-disciplinary working party on how to equip a broader public with an understanding of peer review and the relative merits of research claims in the public domain. It includes an investigation into the social consequences of unfounded research claims, particularly in the medical sphere. The target audiences are parliamentarians, Government and policy bodies, university communications, research-based companies, educationalists, NGOs and the media. This is reflected in the make-up of the working party, which includes the Association for Science Education, Science Media Centre, and Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, as well as eminent scientists. It works closely with a parallel working party on how scientists use peer review by the Royal Society. It is due to report early in 2004.

Vandalism of Research Results

Sense About Science has organised a survey of research institutes about vandalism of trials of new plant varieties and other field and laboratory work, which will be set in the context of the reaction to animal testing work and other research where vandalism overrules public views and social needs.

Voice of Young Science

Young scientists’ voices are often absent from many science-based public debates. Sense About Science is currently establishing a forum for young scientists to debate and respond to contested issues about science, progress and safety. One-day discussions about media and public responses to contentious scientific issues will be held in January 2004 and April 2004. Please contact Ellen Raphael if you would like to participate: Eraphael@senseaboutscience.org