Tag: economics

  • Systems microscopy, Rothamsted, Wales, banking and bioenergy

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    My first appointment last week was to give the welcoming address at the opening of the Systems Microscopy Centre in Manchester, led by Mike White. The Department of Bioenergy and Climate Change published its Bioenergy Strategy, noting that indeed bioenergy  is expected to play a key role in our ability to meet the 2020 renewables target as well as longer term carbon reduction targets to 2030 and 2050. It is also a response to the Committee on Climate Change’s Bioenergy Review.  The timing chimed with the announcement of a new grant on Miscanthus breeding, that was also mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech on the Green Economy. We also had a very useful meeting of the members of Rothamsted Research.

    I attended a very interesting meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology, on “Reducing the risk of a systemic failure of the banking system” (or ‘yet another’ failure, one might say). The speakers included John Kay, who provided a very thoughtful insight on some aspects that insiders got wrong, and Andy Haldane, whose wonderful paper with Lord May I blogged about before. I would like to conclude that I was reassured, but there is a distance between the perceived remedies (some of which – like requiring banks only to trade at levels that are backed by real assets – seem and are rather obvious) and their application. There was however general agreement about the need to separate investment (‘casino’) banking from retail banking, and the need for simplicity, a loose coupling of subsystems, and proper incentivisation. Certainly we need to get ourselves a financial system (‘responsible capitalism’) that provides for the creation of value and not just the simple transfer of money (real and imaginary) from the majority of taxpayers to others who are seemingly out of the control of the public and the public good. [...]

  • Parliament, metabolic syndrome and allostasis

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Following the excellent settlement for the overall Research Base announced at the Comprehensive Spending Review, we are all now busy setting down the next draft of our so-called Delivery Plan, so this week’s blog will be comparatively short. One day last week involved a meeting with George Freeman, MP for mid-Norfolk and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, as well as a reception (with all the Research Councils) for members of the new Parliament with an interest in Science and Technology, hosted by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

    Biologics are a significant part of our portfolio, and I attended a reception hosted by UCB who focus on their development in both the UK and Belgium. [...]

  • The Comprehensive Spending Review, Food and Software

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Anyone with an interest in UK Science cannot fail to have been delighted at the announcement in last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review speech that the Science Budget would not be cut and would be ‘frozen’ at ‘flat cash’ for the next 4 years. We do not yet know what this means for BBSRC and the many calls on our resources, and there may be some challenges around allocations of spend on capital projects, but compared with what most interested parties were anticipating it is a stunning result. The clear recognition that our scientific excellence does indeed have economic and other impacts will have played a significant role, and we can all be grateful to those who helped prosecute both the arguments and the evidence. [...]

  • Health, exercise, brain regeneration and economics

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    This week was slightly truncated because of the Bank Holiday, and allowed some catching up in Swindon. I went to listen to the first speech by Dr Vince Cable (who has a PhD in economics and used to teach the subject at Glasgow) on the priorities for economic growth. Notwithstanding the present rather gloomy economic position, statements such as “BIS is the Ministry for science, and science is a vital public good” give one grounds for optimism.

    I have blogged before about the fact that many things we learned when young (in science and elsewhere) are not in fact true (or may subsequently have been shown not to be). One such myth is that after adolescence one has a fixed number of brain cells and they are not regenerated in adulthood (indeed, alcohol was said to kill them by the thousand). While the very existence of brain tumours shows that adult CNS cells can divide, it does not tell us whether they normally do so. Happily, using methods such as bromodeoxyuridine (ChEBI) labelling and immunocytochemistry, it is now recognized that there is in fact considerable turnover (neurogenesis) in adults – see e.g. reviews by Gould, by Zhao et al., and by Imayoshi et al. This has many beneficial implications for healthy ageing. [...]

  • Technology development as an evolutionary process

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    In my blogs of last week and the week before, I discussed the use of evolutionary methods for improving biotechnological processes. I have also blogged, more than once, about the concept of the economy as an evolutionary ecosystem. The question then arises as to whether the development of technology in general might be seen in this way. While it is clear that minor improvements in existing products or technologies can be seen as ‘evolutionary’ advances derived from their ‘parents’ or precursors, it is not so clear how this metaphor might be applied to the arrival of novel and disruptive technologies that have no obvious precursors. That the evolutionary metaphor does work is the theme of a new book by Brian Arthur. The chief recognition is that all kinds of complex products (and these can include ‘products’ like musical symphonies!) arise largely by the combination or recombination of existing modules. These existing components may also provide novelty by processes akin to horizontal gene transfer, something that genome sequencing methods have shown us is far more common than was previously anticipated. [...]