Ructions at the Royal Institution

Sad news in the Guardian of an impending crisis at London’s venerable Royal Institution.

Apparently the RI, which has been promoting science and carrying out research for more than 200 years at its splendid Mayfair headquarters, is gripped by internal dissent.

According to the Guardian, a review has concluded that the RI needs to save money as a result of the financial downturn – and this could force the departure of Susan Greenfield as director, unless she is willing to stay on in a reduced, possibly part-time role.

Greenfield, who is also a professor of neuropharmacology at Oxford University and a member of the House of Lords, has been a controversial figure during her 11 years as the head of the RI.

She has some powerful detractors in the world of science – and they are not all driven by sexism or jealousy, as Greenfield’s supporters sometimes imply.

Personally I admire her greatly, for the imaginative way she has overhauled the institution, raised its profile, undertaken a much-needed refurbishment and set up the extremely successfully Science Media Centre as an arm’s-length operation under the RI’s wing.

And here I must declare a (non-financial) interest, as a member of the Science Media Centre’s advisory board. But I have no inside knowledge of the RI row.

There is no doubt, however, that Greenfield at her best is an inspiring, articulate voice for science. We need more colourful figures like her, and I wish Susan – and the Royal Institution – well.

The world of research

The science blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Clive Cookson, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about, in fields from astronomy to zoology. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education. He'll cover the weird and wonderful, as well as the serious side of science.

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