Leading article: Science and the establishment

Share
Related Topics

It could have been a scene out of the novels of Anthony Trollope or John Galsworthy: the massed ranks of a venerable science organisation, the Royal Institution, gathered to vote on a resolution to restore a high-profile woman who had been dropped as its director over budgetary overruns.

You didn't need much knowledge of the British establishment to guess what would be the outcome. A London club – for that is what the Royal Institution is, to a large extent – doesn't vote willingly for root-and-branch change, still less in favour of the former director, Lady Susan Greenfield, who wears short skirts and red leather jackets. Not that the vote represented a simple conflict between modernity and fuddy-duddiness. Lady Greenfield brought a good deal of publicity to the organisation but, in doing so, put off some of its backers and members, who accused her of doing so for her own interests, rather than theirs. Nor can financial prudence be dismissed in an institution which has overspent by several million on its £20m refurbishment programme.

But then publicity, or rather public relations, lies at the heart of the Royal Institution and its role. Founded in 1799, in deliberate distinction to the more academic Royal Society, it was set up to bring technological innovation and science teaching to a wider audience. In the early days, it drew such crowds that the road outside its headquarters in Mayfair had to be turned into one of the capital's first one-way streets.

The vote on Monday evening does not resolve the problem the institution has in repeating that success today. The refurbishment of its offices, glorious though they are, has in some ways reinforced its image as a central London club, rather than an outgoing, modern science centre, as well as landing the institution with much higher costs. Lady Greenfield, for all her faults, was trying to broaden its outreach and take it into the modern world of the internet and popularisation.

Her rejection may satisfy some of the institution's backers and restore some stability after the upsets of this year. But if it simply allows the members to relapse into the comforts of their re-upholstered armchairs, it will serve neither the interests of the organisation, nor science.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: Blairites for and against a Miliband victory

John Rentoul
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in debt to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before