Who Owns Science?

A little while ago now (November), I went to Berlin for the second time to sit in on the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s Berlin Science Debate and write the report. This time it was on the present and future of open access scientific publishing – hence the slightly over-dramatised title. A nice opportunity to get an update on an issue I’ve not attended to for a few years. The final version was delayed a bit this time elsewhere in the process but got tweaked and approved in the end.

You can read the report here. (The PDF is named “draft”, I notice, but this is the actual report!)

Berlin debate 2019 Draft3-18_05_20-JT

Not directly related, it was a great time to be in the city as it was the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a date marked by the intriguing Falling Walls Conference each year  (which the Foundation also supports.) There’ll be another Debate this year, I suppose, although probably organised to allow remote attendance, as will Falling Walls…

The Collaborations Collection

I edited a collection of short essays on scientific collaboration for the Royal Society, published in October at the end of their Future Cultures of Science Project (see previous post).

They have a print version out. A web download will follow, I understand – link to follow*. Meanwhile, I’ve posted my intro on Science Observed, if you’re interested.

** here’s the PDF on the RS site

Current events

Being “between books”, and moderately idle TBH, means not many updates here – but a few things…

I’ve edited a collection of essays titled, straightforwardly, The Collaboration Collection for the Royal Society. It was published at the end of their Future Culture of Science Project – and print copies are available from the RS if you ask nicely I think. I’ll post a weblink when they’ve put one up for download.

I was out in Berlin the other day for the Robert Bosch Berlin Science Debate. This is an annual discussion about current issues in science policy. There’ll be a report available soon, probably after Christmas.

And off to Basel in a few weeks to give a lecture on trans/posthumanism as part of a series to. mark the Frankenstein bicentenary. Open to the public, if you happen to be in Switzerland.

Prometheus Mail



Book development and editing

Just putting this in news (of which there hasn’t been much round here lately) as websites can be confusing…   I’ve decided to offer editorial help for books, and book proposals. I get asked for this now and again so it seems sensible to make it a thing here. There’s more about this under that button on the left that says “Need help with a book?”

some engagements

Just reviewing a few dates and realised I’ve accumulated a few more commitments to do (more or less) public things over the next few months. Here are some details. I’m repeating a few from the last post here but one so you don’t have to scroll down.

As previously advertised, I’m doing a Pint of Science talk in Bristol on May 16th, but it’s now full so no point in saying more about that.

Then comes a symposium on Metaphors, Responsible Research and Innovation and Synthetic Biology at Nottingham on May 22nd, where I’ll be talking about science writing. Details here.

Then there’s a by invitation (I think) thing which I note here in case it sounds interesting:  A session on prioritising social science questions about the human microbiome in Oxford on June 26.

That’s swiftly followed by a twofer at the Bradford Literary Festival on July 1st. I’ll be “in conversation” with Oliver Morton, talking about science writing and planetary thinking in our times, or something like that. And there’s a panel on “The Reality of Dystopian Fiction”, again featuring Oli along with fiction authors Sarah Govett (The Territory) and E.J. Swift (author of the Osiris Project trilogy) which I need to chair. Should be a fun day.

I’ll be in Valencia briefly for a talk at the European Microbiology Society conference on communicating the microbiome on July 11th. Then an evening in London on July 19th at the British Library for the 30th anniversary (hard to believe) of the Science Book Prize. By invite again, but hoping to see a good few people I know that night.

Finally, another “in conversation” at the British Science Association in Brighton on September 6th, this time with Maggie Boden, author of many fine books on psychology and artificial intelligence.

It strikes me I have a lot of reading to do this Summer. Some will have to wait, though as I’m working intensively on a beginner’s guide to neuroscience that needs finishing by August. No engagements that month yet. Good!


A science writer’s reading list.

I’ve been doing a spot of teaching at Bath Spa University, as part of their publishing programme. Although publishing was the focus, I also talked about science writing, natch, and was prompted to review and refresh a list I’ve been annotating for many years now of “how to” books about science writing, and non-fiction writing more generally. There are quite a few of them, so it occurs to me it might be of use to a few other people. No-one would ever read them all, or like them all, but I hope it’s a resource that a writer who is trying consciously to develop could dip into and find one or two useful items to follow up.

I’ve posted it in full on the Science Observed blog, on the grounds that science writing is one way of achieving that, and I’ll put it up in PDF on my page as well.

Do let me know if you find it useful, or have things to add?

Talks this year

Picking up a few diary dates for this year – with an emphasis on variety.  I enjoyed talking to the Sunday Assembly crew in Bristol in January, and I’ll be doing something for the local Pint of Science effort in May. Not sure which day yet. Also in May there’s an academic workshop in Nottingham where I get to talk about metaphors in synthetic biology discourse from the perspective of a science writer. I think the main thing I have to say is that it’s really hard to keep all the possible critiques of metaphor in mind – however much one might enjoy discussing them in academic mode – when your immediate task is to get on and write the thing, whatever it is. That isn’t a reason not to try, though, or at least to pull back occasionally and think about which ones to choose.

Then I have to be reflective about science writing, and communicating about microbiome science, again at the Federation of European Microbiological Societies meeting in Valencia in July, and there’s an interesting event brewing on a completely different topic for the British Science Association meeting in Brighton in September.

That leaves plenty of space in the diary, though, so do get in touch if you’d like me to talk about any of the topics you see mentioned on this site.


Talking, microbiomes, Frankenstein… Frankenome?

Quick note of two events in Manchester next week. One is a session for the science programme of the European Science Open Forum ESOF – which means it’s at breakfast time on Wednesday. Seem weird to me but that’s what science folks do, apparently…   There will be two proper scientists talking about microbiomes human and oceanic, so it’ll be intriguing to see what their presentations have in common. Details here. I’ll be chairing/moderating and trying to get the audience involved.

Also in Manchester is a free superorganism talk by me for the Science in the City programme which is running alongside ESOF, on Monday evening. Booking for that one here.

I’m amused, in addition, to have just got an invitation to speak at my third Frankenstein-related event this year – arising ‘cos Mary Shelley wrote the novel 200 years ago. Proof that the old books are the good ones (hers, definitely, mine, possibly).

Anyway, it’s been fun to revisit the subject, which preoccupied me for quite a few years until my book came out in 1998, see previous post. Perhaps by the 200th anniversary of actual publication of the novel, in 2018, I’ll have figured out how to combine Frankenstein and the microbiome in some clever way.

A Frankensteinian year…

I spent a long time thinking about Frankenstein, albeit back in the 20th century, and still enjoy the continually renewed afterlife of the story. My book on that is getting on for 20 years old, but I’d still defend its basic thesis that Mary Shelley furnished a myth that frames much of our discussion of biomedical science and technologies.

So it’s been interesting to see a few responses to the 200th anniversary of the story’s genesis (conceived in 2016, though first published two years later). The Bristol Festival of Ideas’ weekend featured a splendid new theatre production of the tale in John Wesley’s atmospheric chapel, by candle light, lots of talks, some new poetry, and a science, tech and ethics discussion I enjoyed chairing. It seemed to me usefully measured and informative, on IVF and CRISPR mainly, thanks to panellists Robin Lovell Badge, Sara Norcross, Alison Murdoch and Lucy van der Wiel. So gratitude to them, and to the Festival of ideas team for organising it. Also fun to meet the folks organising a Frankensteinian literary tour of Bath (Most people associate the story with the Shelley entourage’s stay on Lake Geneva, but most of the novel was actually written in Bath) which will be running this Summer.

There’s talk of a Gothic event at the Stoke Newington lit fest in June, which I think will also be in a candle lit church…  Details when I have them. And if anyone else wants me to talk about Frankenstein while it’s back in my mind, do get in touch.

What’s everybody up to in 2016? (And can I help?)

Guess what: My work diary has lots of spaces for 2016. I’m OK with that. I have a book I expect to write. But I do like to have other work on the go, mainly to connect with the world beyond my writing desk, to collaborate, and to have things to think about when I want a break from the one big thing.

If you have any projects that could benefit from a writer or editor, do get in touch. In thirty-odd years of freelancing (on the side to begin with, then full-time) I’ve done most things writing wise, aside from fiction. I like synthesis, I strive for clarity, and I am good at making sense of meetings and conferences. I also enjoy editing at every level, and I’ve had actual jobs as a sub-editor, features editor and publisher’s commissioning editor.

Some money would be nice but if your outfit isn’t paying and I sympathise with your aims (likely some variant of decarbonising the global economy, involving citizens in technological or health choices or science policy, or just resisting the resurgence of private affluence and public squalor that is the core project of our government in the UK) then do get in touch anyway. My day rate for others tends to be negotiable according to the interest of the job but I think you’ll find it’s reasonable.

I’ve mainly worked in and around science, especially life sciences and Earth systems science, tech, policy, futures, and global change – but I get interested in almost anything when I take a close enough look. If you see any connection with your interests and the range of things I’ve done before shown on this website, try me.