A Happy New Year to all! Christmas as usual provided the opportunity for some reading, both light-hearted and serious (cricket counts in both categories), a mainly light-hearted one being a summary of the ‘valedictory’ despatches of various British ambassadors. This said, it combined some serious analysis with profound point-scoring and more than a sprinkling of elegant phrases and bons mots. Notwithstanding the evidently classical education of most Ambassadors, the following (dated 1973) might apply to more countries than that of this particular Ambassador’s posting: “A small country which badly needs carpenters, plumbers, engineers and so forth, is turning out third-rate lawyers and sociologists by the dozen.” One of the more serious books I read was a survey of the past and likely future demographics of avian flu, while another was a masterful analysis by Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz of the causes (and potential cures – sadly not yet being enacted) of the global financial crisis of 2008.

Last week’s activities started with my first visit to the longstanding and important Oxford Farming Conference. I was able in the formal sessions to listen only to the presentations of Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman, Irish Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Brendan Smith TD and of George Lyon (MEP and rapporteur for ‘The future of the Common agricultural Policy after 2013’ report), and a Q&A session including the speakers plus Prof Allan Buckwell (policy Director of the CLA) brilliantly chaired by Matt Dempsey, Editor of the Irish Farmers Journal. However, I met a great many important intellectual and practical leaders in Agri-Food such that it was a very worthwhile meeting to which I shall make sure I return in subsequent years for a longer visit.

We also had an extremely useful meeting with Prof Sir John Beddington and colleagues at GO-Science that concentrated on our (and collaborators’) Global Food Security agenda and our related agenda in Bioenergy and Industrial Biotechnology, as part of the Knowledge-Based BioEconomy. On a related agricultural note, an important and eponymous review looks at “The top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture”.

I also enjoyed a brief but very useful attendance at the Association for Science Education conference, where inter alia I met for the first time Norma Broadbridge (who has looked after the British Biology Olympiad – and thereby the UK’s participation in the International Biology Olympiad – for a considerable period).

I attended our first Audit Board of 2011, which also constituted the last meeting for its Chair, Prof Quintin McKellar, whose considerable contributions to this and other public services were pleasingly recognized in the New Year’s Honours list. 

It is widely believed (with considerable evidence) that papers published under Open Access (OA) are more likely to be read (and hence cited) than those not freely available, and a recent survey shows this to be true for papers in Agricultural Sciences. The authors conclude “Self-archived agriculture research articles tended to attract higher citations than their non-OA counterparts.” Cameron Neylon’s blog points up a useful new and eponymous journal on Open Research Computation, that provides a useful vehicle for disseminating software of use in computational biology. Although the ‘rules’ are of wider applicability than Computational Biology, Phil Bourne has a nice little piece on featuring one’s scientific contributions to best advantage.

Finally, folk with an hour to spare might like to enjoy the Joy of Stats (with data visualization) video now online.

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