politics, Science, Science and society

Brexit, Euratom and the future of UK science (again)

What with all the recent furore over Euratom, it seemed a good time to consider the impact of Brexit on UK science. Regarding Euratom itself, the decision to withdraw from that shocked a lot of scientists (and others): this wasn’t something that was really considered as a real possibility during the referendum campaign. Euratom occupies a somewhat unique position: it was a separate treaty negotiated in 1957, so it is legally distinct from the EU but has the same membership, and comes under many of the same institutions. One of those institutions would be the European Court of Justice, and this appears to be the sticking point for the Prime Minister: May has drawn a red line over leaving the ECJ as a condition for Brexit. I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need to do this. To allow big business and the government to erode our human rights, as far as I can tell. So in the fallout (pun intended) from this, withdrawal from Euratom is yet another thing that was never on a ballot paper, never discussed, not planned for, and has no positives for us.

From the government’s own research briefing (PDF download available):

The UK will have to take on a number of measures to leave Euratom smoothly
such as:
• Design, resource and implement new UK safeguarding
arrangements in line with accepted international standards;
• Replace current safeguarding commitments under the Non
Proliferation Treaty (which are also predicated on Euratom
membership);
• Identify and plan negotiation of replacement Nuclear Cooperation
Agreements (NCAs) with countries with which the UK has
ongoing nuclear trade.24
As Euratom manages inspections of UK nuclear power, the UK will need
to agree new inspections with the International Atomic Energy Agency
before the UK exits the EU.

Leaving jeopardises the supply of radioisotopes for industry and medicine, the JET fusion project (pictured), supplies of nuclear material for power stations, and, oh yes, Britain’s standing as a world leader in nuclear research.

What of the wider implications for UK science? What has the EU ever done for UK science? Well, a lot. Below follows an edited re-post of a blog I published shortly after the referendum. Continue reading

biology, Developmental biology, Explainer, Opinion piece, Science, Science and society, SF and science

Will we ever have artificial wombs?

A few years back I attended the annual conference of the British Society for Developmental Biology. There was a discussion session towards the end of the day concerning future developments and directions in our field of research, namely how one goes from the early embryo to, ultimately, the adult human (or other organism). Into a lull in the conversation, my then-boss, who was heavily pregnant with twins and very uncomfortable, interjected the following question: “I only want to know one thing right now: when are we going to be able to grow babies in artificial wombs?” Good question…

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evolution, Miscellaneous, Science and society

Humans: born to…migrate?

Following on from that Nature feature on human migration I blogged about  a couple of weeks ago, is another interesting piece in Science provocatively titled: “Busting myths of origin.” It is, however, exactly as the title says: analysis of DNA and isotopes in bones and teeth is showing that most of the people of the world are the products of multiple migrations: there are no “pure” peoples of any kind, with the exception of a very few groups, notably the indigenous Australian Aborigines, who, largely through accidents of geography and circumstance, remained isolated from many other human groups for a relatively long time. Migration and mingling, it turns out, is the norm for our species.

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biology, evolution, Science, Science and society

The (evolutionary) roots of lethal human violence

How much of human violence is innate, and how much of it is shaped by our environments? Are we a uniquely violent species? These are questions philosophers and social scientists have tried to answer for centuries. Now researchers have done an evolutionary comparison – and conclude that the rate of lethal human violence is six times that of the average mammal…but about average for a great ape.

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politics, Science, Science and society

Brexit and the future of UK science

The news here in the UK has, of course, been dominated by “Brexit“, the advisory referendum vote that saw the UK populace vote by a narrow margin to leave the EU. There is absolutely no way I’m going into the politics or constitutionality of this, as many actual political commentators are far more equipped to do so, but, as a scientist, the expected effects of UK science are of great interest to me. There is an absolutely excellent blog post on this here – this is from evidence given to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology by Dr Mike Galsworthy and Dr Rob Davidson: Scientists (and others) will be pleased to note that is therefore full of facts, data and supported evidence. It is a long but worthwhile read. I will quote from a few highlights to illustrate the main points, and then I will indulge myself and speculate a little on what my experience of the international nature of science has made me feel about large-scale political entities such as the EU. Continue reading

General opinion, Science and society, science fiction, Society, Uncategorized

Never mind a hovercar, I want a robot butler and a three day working week

honda-new-asimo-3Photo credit: Honda. I want me one of these, but better.

One of things that is always dragged up when people start discussing whether the science fiction of the past predicted the present at all accurately, is the old “Where’s my hovercar?” trope. Maybe it’s just that I don’t even like regular wheeled cars, but of all the many things I wanted in this so-called ‘Future’, a hovercar was pretty far down the list. A replicator would be a damn sight more useful. A robot butler even more so. I did like this golden vision a lot of 50s and 60s scifi presented though, where the future was bright and nobody had to work, or only at really interesting things they really wanted to do (never mind that they were often so hampered by their own prejudices that they utterly failed to advance gender equality, for example, but that’s another story). But, really, why are we still all working like dogs? And where are the futuristic, practical everyday inventions that would make life easier? Continue reading