Apart from a considerable amount of shortlisting and interviewing for various posts, my first main visit of the week was to Rothamsted Research, which bills itself as “the largest agricultural research centre in the United Kingdom and almost certainly the oldest agricultural research station in the world”, starting from its time as the Rothamsted Experimental Station. I was shown a great many exciting areas of science, from food and non-food crop improvements including novel means for water, carbon and nutrient sequestration in plant roots, through metagenomics and farm platform technology. Rothamsted is anticipated to be a major player in our delivery of improved crops for global food security.

We also had a very useful meeting with the Office for Life Sciences, concentrating in particular on our strategies for industrial biotechnology and bioenergy as part of the Knowledge-Based BioEconomy.

There have been times when the value of investing in UK Science has been doubted by our politicians, and last Thursday (January 13th) marked the 25th Anniversary of the publication of a full-page advert in The Times and the founding of Save British Science (now the Campaign for Science and Engineering). The anniversary was marked (PDF) by a celebratory reception that I was delighted to attend (PDF), with speeches from CaSE Director Imran Khan, Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, ex-Chief Science Advisor Lord May, and the Oxford-based co-founders John Mulvey and Denis Noble. Imran pointed out that some things had not changed much in the last 25 years, since in 1986 England had had a series-winning Ashes Tour in Australia, Glaswegians Alex Fergsuon and Kenny Dalglish were then the managers of Manchester United and Liverpool, and there had been a Royal Wedding

On the Open Access front, the twitterverse and blogosphere were very excited by the announcement of an open access journal from the Nature Publishing Group. While the transition period will be a little tricky, as funders will no doubt be expected to contribute to both library subscriptions and various flavours of ‘author-pays’ kinds of true (Open Access) scientific public-ation, this announcement sends a very important signal about the direction of travel of major mainstream academic publishing groups.

Metrics are all the rage, and certainly a major part of some areas of science is to compare the merits of differing ideas or theories. This may be extended to the question of whether a particular scientific ontology (a formal intellectual structure describing a particular domain) is in some sense ‘good’ for describing what it seeks to describe. A new paper sets out some promising means for doing just that.

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