When asked if I "would be able" to spend a few days in the press office at the Royal Society, it didn't take long to say yes. I was there from 10 – 12 October.
|Duke of York's Column, just outside.|
The place is heavy with history and marble, and has on display many valuable paintings, objects (such as Newton's Mark II wooden refracting telescope) and even more valuable archives - the RS celebrated its 350 year anniversary last year, founded by Charles II in 1660.
Monday morning - after a briefing from Bill Hartnett who heads the press office, and meeting other staff, we went up to the library where James Hansen, an academic from New York, was giving a press briefing on what the geological climate record can tell us about current and future man-made climate change. The briefing was linked to a two day conference at the RS on climates of the past. The science was quite complicated, about levels of carbon dioxide forcing, long and short term feedback loops and recent evidence of global warming despite the cooling effects of the 1998 El Nino. But somehow the handful of journalists steered the questioning onto energy supply and nuclear power - a good example of the press looking for a 'story', though I don't yet know what they'll do with the briefing, if anything. Today's news is dominated by a government minister on the ropes (Liam Fox), which is of far more interest than the future of the planet. (See story)
If the journalists at Times Higher are the consumers of stories to sell on to their readership, the press office at the RS is a producer of stories mined from the scholarly activities of its fellows, its science policy team and academic journal authors.
On Tuesday I finished off an online article about a Royal Society Proceedings B paper on the effects of the contraceptive Pill on choice of partner (just the sort of thing the press/public should find interesting - abstract here), but the big event of the day was preparation for a press conference on an RS report being launched on Thursday 'Fuel cycle stewardship in a nuclearrenaissance'.. As they only do a few big policy reports each year, and nuclear power is a hot topic post Fukushima, it was important to get it right.
Preparation was with Professor Roger Cashmore FRS (who chaired the working group) and Dr Christine Brown, a nuclear industry expert, who would be facing the press on Wednesday (reporting is embargoed until 00:001 hrs on Thursday morning, so the press can file their reports for Thursday). Unfortunately, an entirely separate report by Dr Mike Weightman for DECC, accompanied by a statement from Chris Huhne (also, confusingly, to speak at the RS report launch), came out today on safety of UK nuclear plants following Fukushima.
|For Colin ♥ Damian|
Wednesday morning - gratifying that my online piece about the Pill has possibly lead to the research paper being read and covered by at least nine national and regional papers this morning, and the BBC website. Then up to the library again for the press briefing, where the panel faced some tough questioning about the UK's nuclear industry record and the July closure of the Sellafield MOX plant, although the report is looking at the global industry into the future and what to do with existing stocks of plutonium (The Independent story). In the afternoon I got a chance to talk to Nick Green, head of projects in the RS Science Policy Centre. Nick explained how his team worked with Fellows and others to produce policy reports on a wide range of issues with important implications for the future - the nuclear fuel cycle report being one. Then back to the office to write a short online article on disgust (yes disgust) - the Philosophical Transactions B has a themed issue on this area. Nine dense pages of text were condensed down to about 220 words; disgust is an evolutionary trait which helps prevent disease, but has some interesting links to psychological disorders, apparently. All too soon, as they say, it was time to leave my last press placement and head home to Rutland.
Pictures from the 2nd floor atrium - the painting is an original by Damian Hirst. The central circle is a little space vehicle, and the caption scrawled in pencil in the corner reads For Colin ♥ Damian / Rome wasn't built in a day. It refers to the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission, lead by Professor Colin Pillinger FRS, which failed to make a successful landing on Mars on Christmas Day 2003. The satellite is a replica of Ariel 1, the first UK satellite which was launched for scientific purposes in 1962, which hangs from the ceiling.