Controversial professor brands campaign against her 'cowardly'

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The Independent Online

Susan Greenfield, the Oxford brain scientist, has hit back at unnamed fellows of the Royal Society who are orchestrating a whispering campaign to prevent her election to the august scientific body.

A number of Royal Society fellows have let it be known that they are prepared to resign if Baroness Greenfield is elected because they consider her scientific research too insubstantial.

Britain's most famous living female scientist said through her solicitors that that her nomination should have remained secret until a decision was made to elect her. "I understood that the process was confidential," Lady Greenfield said.

"It is a great pity that those who do not have the courage to identify themselves can make unsubstantiated criticisms of my science and my activities in public communication."

Lady Greenfield, 53, became professor of pharmacology at Oxford University in 1996, was made director of the Royal Institution two years later and a "people's peer" in 2001. She has written books and presented a television series on the brain.

Her ambition was to turn the Royal Institution into a salon and a popular evening venue. She has attracted publicity because of her penchant for short skirts and make-up.

One fellow of the Royal Society, who did not want to be named, was quoted by The Times Higher Education Supplement as saying that there was a groundswell of opinion against Lady Greenfield becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). "To give her an FRS would be an insult to the world-class scientists who are still on the waiting list and to the legions of modest, hard-working genuine promoters of public dialogue on science," the scientist said.

Most scientists are elected because of their scientific achievements, but some have become an FRS because of their work in furthering the public understanding of science.

Alan Malcolm, chief executive of the Institute of Biology, said Lady Greenfield had a proven track record in this area. "The Royal Institution had somewhat fallen asleep. Susan has taken it by the scruff of the neck, shaken it and breathed new life into it," he said. But another FRS, who did not want to be named, countered that Lady Greenfield had done little to help scientific communication. "She doesn't promote science. She promotes Susan Greenfield," he said.

Election to the Royal Society is through a committee of fellow specialists who draw up a shortlist that is then considered by other fellows. About 500 scientists are on the list of nominees and names stay on the list for seven years Forty-four fellows will be elected in May.

MPs have criticised the society, which was founded in 1660 to promote excellence in science, for being a male- dominated club. Just 4.3 per cent of its 1,244 fellows are women, although over the past five years 11 per cent of new fellows have been female.