Last week involved a busy day at BIS presenting, with our Chair Professor Sir Tom Blundell, to the Triennial Review team, followed by two meetings chaired by David Willetts on Open Access (where there are some interesting developments in the US) and on aspects of the Agri-Tech strategy.

I then travelled to Boston, to attend the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where I was presented with their Fellowship. This was a huge meeting, but a session I especially enjoyed was one on Visualising Science (including Dennis Meredith, Erik Olsen and Yael Fitzpatrick). William Press gave an excellent Presidential lecture, citing (as I have done) the work of Robert Solow in illustrating the ~30% return that investment in civil science and technology brings. Press also mentioned the work of Kenneth Arrow and Zvi Griliches, the fact that positive feedback (education breeds innovation breeds education…) is necessary to account for exponential increases in per capita incomes, and reciprocal shifts in the percentage of resource going on more fundamental and more applied research from public and private sources, respectively. All entirely applicable to the UK.

In a similar vein, a superb session on “measuring the economic and social impacts of science and technology investments” included an excellent talk by Stephen Merrill who rehearsed many of the issues we recognise in the UK, including the statement in the US ‘State of the Union’ address that every $1 invested in human genome sequencing returned $140 to the US Economy, and also noted Paula Stephan’s important book analysing the same issues of the return on scientific investments.

A high-class and very interesting session on European Science included ‘our own’ Paul Boyle (Science Europe and ESRC), Anne Glover (European CSA), Helga Nowotny (President of the ERC) and Robert-Jan Smits (DG of Research and Innovation). There was also an entertaining exposition of ‘science in the kitchen by Nathan Myrhvold, and I attended part of a very interesting session on high-resolution cellular imaging. Technologies described by X Nancy Xu, Scott Fraser and Xiaowei Zhuang were especially striking. All in all, coupled with some extremely useful networking meetings, this was a very valuable event.

I note an interesting crowdsourcing paper (pdf) and website making available genomics and transcriptomics data on Chalara fraxinea, the causative organism of Ash Dieback, with versioning and credit assignment being made possible by GitHub, and a paper indicating the role of the gut microbiome in kwashiorkor disease. Sequencing will be an increasingly important aspect of understanding microbial population dynamics.

I also draw attention to our call for inputs to the ‘light-touch’ refresh of our Strategic Plan. HMRC is also consulting on a proposed withdrawal of the VAT exemption for research.

Finally, as trailed last week, the link to the Deloitte’s review of BBSRC’s effective financial management is here.

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