The overriding theme of last week seemed to be the nexus of where arts and humanities meet the natural sciences (and equivalently where they fail to, as the balkanisation of research remains a major issue).

One pleasant networking event was the annual invitation from the Royal Society of Chemistry to a viewing of the Royal Academy summer exhibition. As usual this seemed to involve a mixture of wonderful drawings, paintings and sculpture with some frankly more meretricious offerings, but was nonetheless a pleasant occasion to meet a variety of folk for useful informal discussions.

I enjoyed that part that I was able to attend of a very interesting workshop on ‘Cultivating common ground’ between humanities and biology, with wide-ranging discussions covering literature, history (I learnt about the difference between anachronic and diachronic analyses), language, and so on. Under the guidance of Prof Karín Lesnick-Oberstein, we also analysed an apparently famous but surprisingly hard-to-read neuroscience paper from various ‘literary criticism’ points of view. Overall a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable event, that I hope will propel more folk from the arts and humanities to collaborate with biologists, and vice versa. (Here I also learnt about the pre-Mendelian breeding experiments of Thomas Knight.)

RCUK published its new Open Access policy response following the Finch report (pdf), which attracted interesting and favourable coverage (e.g. from the Guardian, that also had another interesting piece on the European Commission’s thinking (pdf) on access to scientific information). Further evidence shows that papers being published under Gold Open Access are cited at least as regularly as those hidden behind the paywalls of subscription journals. Regarding dissemination, I came upon an excellent means to improve the web dissemination of large infographics, rather in the style of the MapReduce algorithms underpinning Google Maps. Such algorithms represent important innovations, and I am just starting an interesting book on that subject.

I enjoyed a thoughtful paper on evolutionary approaches to plant metabolic engineering, one on accurate genome sequencing of small numbers of cells, another on integrative computational methods for knowledge discovery, one on the benefits of whole-cell modelling, and a very successful iron-fertilisation experiment (and commentary) for long-term C sequestration in the deep oceans. I would also mention an Obituary that drew my attention to the Nobel prize-winning work of Elinor Ostrom on how to deal with the tragedy of the commons (which obviously remains work in progress, not least in the banking community). More on sustainability anon.

Finally, I was pleased to note the early publication of our 2011-12 Annual Report and Accounts.

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