Dear Princess Anne: Royalty seems to support irrelevancies, such as a project to collect ancient explorers' debris, while ignoring the real pioneers. The Independent's science editor is not amused

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Later this month you are to preside over an event which, quite frankly, epitomises everything that is wrong with the Royal Family. It will be yet another indicator of your collective irrelevancy to the modern world and of your family's isolation from a whole swathe of British life.

As patron of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, you will officially launch the efforts to raise funds to preserve Antarctic memorabilia. The trust has been set up to preserve the bits and pieces left behind from the olden days of the great British Antarctic explorers, such as Shackleton and Scott.

Retrospection is the British disease. We look at the past through sepia-tinted spectacles but avert our eyes from the future. We are all willing shareholders but National Nostalgia plc is a family firm: all the seats on the board are occupied by Windsors. So it's not surprising that your family is increasingly regarded as an anachronism.

Try thinking of it this way: the real memorial to the great explorers of the past is not to preserve the debris that they left behind, but to extend and continue their work. Not by encouraging gestures such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes's tedious hikes across the Antarctic ice-cap - that appears to me to be a monstrous indulgence of egotism.

There are people in Antarctica who have embarked on lifelong journeys of exploration of our world. But the method has changed: it is no longer enough to trek across the ice, for that has been done.

The future lies with the scientists of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). These are the people relevant to the real world, not some Ruritania of retrospection. These are the people who found the hole in the ozone layer and thus alerted the entire world to the risk that human activities could alter the climate on a global scale - the sort of thing your brother is so fond of banging on about.

It's all very well putting the royal warrant on companies making olde worlde jams, but if you and your family really want to do something relevant to modern Britain, why not bestow your patronage (in the way you have as president of Save the Children Fund) on the BAS?

But Windsor plc hardly seems connected at all to British science and technology. OK, so your cousin, the Duke of Kent, is a trustee of the Science Museum - well, need I say more? Your Mum is patron of the Royal Society, another historical anachronism, consisting of a bunch of ageing scientists mostly out of touch.

Were you aware that other institutions, the Research Councils, do real scientific research and dish out the real money to finance it? The Government has recently reorganised these councils and has appointed new chairmen to them. Did any of your lot think of putting their names forward?

It is not too late to bring the Royal Family into the 20th century. You could persuade your children to follow in the footsteps of the great explorers by embarking on a career of scientific or environmental research. Who knows, in a few years, we could be celebrating Zara of the Antarctic.

(Photograph omitted)

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