While I was away…

View of WhitbyI’ve just returned from a week away in North Yorkshire, and scanning through my RSS backlog and FriendFeed from while I was away, I notice a few interesting developments.

  1. Zotero made a firm¬†announcement of a standalone version of their excellent open-source reference management tool. I’ve been keen on Zotero for a while, but have moved away from FireFox as my browser lately (at present, Zotero is only available as a FireFox plugin). I’m looking forward to using it in earnest again, and trying to integrate it more fully into my workflow (which has been the main problem with other reference managers I’ve tried). No release date yet that I’ve found (sadly).
  2. Nodalpoint, the bioinformatics blog of old, has been reincarnated as a podcast. I love podcasts, and listen to a whole bunch of them (to the point where I don’t have much of a chance to listen to music on my commute any more), but there’s not many around that are relevant to what I do with most of my time (apart from the excellent c2cbio podcast of course). I’m really looking forward to listening to episode one, and hope more follow in due course.
  3. The people behind the ‘Science is Vital‘ lobby group, as well as organising a public rally, and a lobby of Parliament, have set up a petition, I urge everyone (in the UK) to go and sign it. If we don’t try to protect science in some degree in the forthcoming round of spending cuts, no one else will.

This week in links #1

In a new style post (for me), some links to things that have caught my eye in the last 2 weeks:

This may become a habit. Though it is likely to be an infrequent one.

Save the Scientist, Save the World?


Gordon Brown has already saved the world once, but it didn’t take. So the world needs another solution. i humbly suggest that the way to help save the economy, of Britain at least, is to invest heavily in Science and Technology. In the following I try to justify this as anything other than pure selfishness.

Science is very often one of the first casualties of government spending in a recession. This is because it is seen as a luxury, a good-time frippery that is difficult to justify when times are hard. The reverse should be true, science and technology investment are not disposable because they are the generators of future income, the basis of a future successful economy.

The economy of this country has, for a long time now, been based in the service sector. This keeps people employed, which drives the economy because employed people buy things. But we no longer produce anything of note, we don’t generate significant external input into our economy – except through the financial sector… and I think everyone knows what happened there by now. We reached a point where confidence amongst those employed in the service sector collapsed, so they stopped buying things, this means that the service sector looked to the financial sector for support, but the financial sector, to all intents and purposes, no longer existed, so the service sector began collapsing upon itself. This is self-perpetuating, it leads to job losses, which leads to less buying of things, which leads to further job losses… and so on. (I realise this is a gross simplification of the real situation, and not 100% accurate, but it is pretty close to the real thing, and makes my point).

The government has declared its intention to follow a Keynesian approach and spend its way out of recession, taking upon itself the responsibility of injecting the cash that the economy needs to rebuild itself. This is a well recognised approach, and has merit, the new investment has to come from somewhere, and no institution has the borrowing power of the government. However, we (as a nation) must be able to recover this investment at some future point. This means we have to create wealth that is not already in the system. We have to make something that the rest of the world wants to buy.

So, invest in science, engineering and technology. Reverse the decline in these disciplines, the unpopularity of Maths and Physics in the classroom, the hemorrhage of the talent we do have overseas. Make the product the rest of the world buy into our innovation. Funding research keeps the current generation of innovators employed (the selfish bit), and creates new opportunities for the next generation. And not just for those lucky enough to have the education to pursue this route. Infrastructure is needed to surround research. Newcastle University is one of the largest employers in the North East.

At this point I am clearly in danger of getting carried away, so it’s probably best to wrap up. Since I started writing this particular perma-draft, many things have happened. Gordon Brown spoke in congress, about the need to ‘educate our way out of the downturn, invest and invent our way out of the downturn and re-tool and re-skill our way out of the downturn.‘ The US stimulus package has promised vast investment in science and technology. And just today President Obama unfroze research into Stem Cells in the US. All of these are obviously good things, let’s hope the momentum can be maintained, and the doom merchants don’t win.