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Recently by Kate Cooper

Brilliant news . . . the Birmingham Post, along with the New Optimists, is going to have a Science Blog, we think a first for a regional newspaper.

As well as yours truly, these are the interesting bunch of people who'll be contributing -- just look at the range of expertise and experience:

Nick Booth is chairing a New Optimists panel at The Spring Thing, run by Birmingham's Book Festival. It's at 4:00pm today in the Arena Foyer of Birmingham Conservatoire.

There's development geographer Professor Hazel Barrett whose research is about HIV spread, neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon and Director of both The Institute of Gaming and Animation and IT Futures Dr Stuart Slater. Their task: to interrogate what the future holds for us.

You can book online here -- or just turn up at the door. I'll be there.

It's a pity that the on-line version of Will Hutton's article about the Budget missed a really important point which appeared in the hardcopy version. I quote part of it here:

"The prioritisation of what matters is scarcely credible. The annualised and ongoing cost of the corporation tax changes by 2015/16 (including the reductions last June) that so pleased Mr Sorrell will be over £5bn a year as the government scrapes together a one-off £100m for extra science investment and a one-off £100m to create 50,000 apprentices. Imagine not giving a damn about Mr Sorrell's choice of tax jurisdiction or the value of this long-term incentive plan and investing £5bn a year in science and apprenticeships by 20105. The country would be transformed and the opportunities for our kids immeasurably improved . . . "


Yes, imagine it. We don't have many of the seriously rich here. The regions don't of course. But they do have most of the people in the country. And people can think. Investing in minds, particularly in minds with a scientific bent, will make us all richer -- and not just in monetary terms.

When I wrote my brief blogpost on Thursday, I had no idea of that the Adonis' Lunar Society Annual Lecture was the centre of a local political storm.

And it is a very local storm. It's of little or no interest to most Brummies, and zilch interest beyond. Moreover, it shouldn't divert us from the bigger picture. Birmingham has the opportunity of playing on a national and international stage.

The real importance of HS2 is not that London and Birmingham are half an hour or so closer, important though that is. Nor about Curzon Street and the development (or not) of Eastside. It's that Birmingham will thereby become the nation's rail hub.

Lord Adonis delivered an excoriating Lunar Society Annual Lecture last Tuesday. Whatever your views on HS2 (vital in my view as Adonis'), an elected mayor (ditto), Adonis gave us facts and figures that are rarely heard in public debate here. It sometimes takes an outsider to say it as it is.

Birmingham, he said, "faces something of a crisis" and is in need of "a radical transformation under strong purposeful civic leadership".

Not a single politician among them, but many others there told me how refreshing it was to hear stuff about the city put in such bald if disconcerting terms. And that until we all, political decision-makers included, face up to what's happening -- or more particularly, not happening in this city of ours, it will inexorably decline.

For governments everywhere, the game has changed. Technologies now let into the world millions upon millions of messages and images from ordinary people saying what is happening in the moment in front of the eyes. Such as this one:

Uninstalling dictator

#TUNISIA ████████████████ : done

#EGYPT ████████████████ : done

#ALGERIA ███░░░░░░░░░░░░: in progress

And this one:

Protest schedule: #Bahrain #feb14, #Libya#feb17, #Algeria #feb19, #Morocco #feb20, #Cameroon#feb23, #Kuwait #Mar8 #freedom #hope #peace


Russell Beale is a computer scientist. And one of the New Optimists. His optimism, now grounded in a new political reality -- here as well as the dramatic unfolding of old orders in the Middle East -- is the 'transformative power of technology".

In my last blogpost about the Cities and Science Communication Conference at Thinktank at the end of January, I said I'd let you have this, the CASC Conference Report, so here it is.

In a punchy four pages, the three headline policy recommendations to increase public interest and engagement with science across the European Union are plain to read, along with concrete proposals from delegates as to how these recommendations can be achieved.

It was great to be a part of the bustling, lively Cities and Science Communication (CASC) Final Conference this last week. Over 80 people from across the EU had gathered at Thinktank to make policy recommendations for the decision-makers in Brussels -- for the blog about it all, click here, or get a flavour of the live reporting of it, just scroll down the twitter hashtag #eucasc.

Two of the New Optimists' scientists, plant science Dr Juliet Coates and the microbiologist Professor Peter Lambert joined me on a panel to discuss the making of this book and the whole New Optimists project as an example of science communication. Check this CASC blogpost about it, and see also a video summary here.

Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse is the incoming President of the Royal Society, President of the Rockefeller University and about-to-be the first Director and CEO of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation.

So when he makes a BBC Horizon programme about Science under Attack, we should take note. If you haven't seen it, there's 27 days left on iPlayer to do so.

I've written about Paul Nurse before in this blog.

If you're stymied about what to buy as a Christmas present, take heart. You're sure to find something in the New Optimists' recommendations about what makes a good read.

They've wide-ranging tastes -- topics include food, computer games, the life of trees, novels and poetry plus biology with gallons of gore as well as other favourite popular science books . . . so there's something in there for everyone. And don't forget to buy their own book, too -- The New Optimists: Scientists View Tomorrow's World and What It Means to Us.

A great way to support science in the region, as well as spreading the word about what these remarkable men and women are doing, right here, to make our world a better place.

note: Profits from the sale of The New Optimists will be ploughed back into science research in the region.

The 350th anniversary day of the Royal Society was this last week, and Brum-graduate Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse (about whom I've written before) became President of the said Society. So it seems right that this blogpost should be about one of the "inspirational" New Optimists who can put the prestigious letters, FRS, after his name.

PeterSadler.jpgHe's Professor Peter Sadler, Fellow of the Royal Society.

He's a chemist. Just finished his three-year stint as Head of the Chemistry Department at Warwick University in fact.

He's an inorganic chemist to be precise. So knowledgable about the hundred or so elements that make up everything in the known universe.

Like any scientist, though, he's more aware of what he doesn't know in his area of expertise than what he does. His optimism is grounded here, in what he doesn't know, and so in the excitement of discovery.

He has reason to be. His discoveries have made our world a better place.

A copy of The House, Parliament's weekly magazine dropped through my letterbox yesterday.

And there, on page 47, is a glowing review of The New Optimists by no less than Baroness Perry of Southwark who, among other prestigious positions, is a member of the Lords Science and Technology select committee.

Entitled "Reasons to be cheerful", she is "inspired" by the over 80 scientists [our guys!] who have made their "positive predictions about the potential of science to transform human health and wellbeing in the 21st century".

She mentions Professor Jon Frampton by name (although, alas, misspells it!). He runs the University of Birmingham Stem Cell Centre -- and is far from the only person who thinks stem cells have the potential to revolutionalise medicine. Mentioned by name, too, is Dr Kathleen Maitland, a computer scientist from BCU who in "her clear and jargon-free essay . . . predicts that the way young people of today interact with technology wil lead to 'scientific breakthroughs which we could never dram of'."

Whatever your views the protests tomorrow against the Government's funding cuts and hike in tuition fees, one thing is still clear. The University of Birmingham's School of Cancer Studies is home to world-renown research.

Thus when Professor Paul Moss, current Head of the School, says he is optimistic about cancer being controlled within a generation, we should take note. "When I lecture my medical students today," he says, "I challenge them to think that they can be the first generation to be largely free of the fear of cancer."

Weighty matters at Aston

By Kate Cooper on Nov 14, 10 08:28 AM in

Thumbnail image for Ian_Nabney.jpegNew Optimist Professor Ian Nabney is the second of the scientists I'm writing about in this blog.

The first was optometrist James Wolffsohn and about bionic eyes . . . You wouldn't automatically think of Ian when it comes to medical and health issues. For he's a computer scientist, an expert in probability theory and machine learning, so someone you might think of as coming up with tomorrow's data-mining methodologies, or if into today's commercial applications, doing stuff for for city trading, say, or supermarket logistics.

His expertise, however, has proved key in developing a radical new way of measuring the risks associated with obesity.

Last night's news was full of the story of Miikka Terho detecting objects, including letters and a clockface, despite his blindness. Opthalmologist Professor Eberhart Zrenner and his team at the University of Tuebingen in Germany have implanted an electronic chip under his macula, part of his non-functioning retina. This chip sends messages to the visual cortex in his brain.

Revolutionary stuff.

Aston University's Professor James Wolffsohn is an optometrist, so researches what goes on at the front of our eyes, the lens and the muscles. He, too, talks of bionic eyes -- and some that are already part of clinical practice.

What are you optimistic about? Really, amid all the gloomsters, what are you optimistic about?

It's the question I asked a load of scientists who work locally; i.e. within about 20 miles of this breakfast table of mine where I'm writing this blogpost.

Amazingly, over 80 of these brilliant people responded, and their 76 essays are in a book.

And last month on 14th September, the first day

Science in the city

By Kate Cooper on Jun 18, 10 05:57 PM in Business

Two events this week marked Birmingham as a significant science centre.

The first was at two in the morning on 16 June when the spanking new Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham opened its doors for its first A&E patients. Much has been made of the facilities in the handsome building which dominates the Edgbaston-Selly Oak skyline, and rightly so. There's nothing new, however, in the world-class quality of the staff, both the clinicians and the researchers behind the scenes blazing their trail in the regional universities.

The second event was less dramatic, but significant nonetheless. It was the inaugural meeting of Science Capital, a not-for-profit organisation bringing scientists, business experts, policy makers and financial advisors together.

I've kept silent on this blog while electioneering happens. My thoughts are inchoate on what will pan out on Friday morning, so my writing on such matters would be even more so.

But here's a recommendation. Take a look at this informative website: tacticalvoting.org; scroll down for constituency lists.

Their aim is, they say, "to provide information, in an independent and non-partisan way, on how to make the most of your vote. Starting with the coming UK general election on 6th May 2010". And they do it rather well.

Tomorrow Birmingham City Council will approve a Climate Change Action Plan. This formality marks the city's desire to be a significant player in a radical social and technological revolution that is just beginning.

That the necessity for the revolution is now widely accepted by governments, business and social leaders across the world as well as by our own City Council is a cause for celebration. So why, Jonathan Porritt asked in his lucid, engaging Lunar Society Annual Lecture last Tuesday, is there so little fanfare?

Incumbency, he argued persuasively, was the major factor. This single word encapsulates so much about why the fanfare is more occasional off-key trumpeting than a full-blown massed-voiced choir raising the rafters.

High Speed 2 presents great opportunities to redress the UK's North-South imbalance. But it can only capitalise on these opportunities if it's part of a bigger agenda than getting people from A to B.

In an article about High Speed 2 in Friday's London Evening Standard, Andrew Neather asserted that getting to the Bull Ring ("but hey! did you really want to go?") in less than an hour wasn't worth the £30bn ticket, echoing Paul Dale's blog though from a perspective much closer to St Pancras and HS1.

Irena_Bauman_HP.jpgArchitect Irena Bauman's MADE talk next Thursday (6:30pm, Birmingham Conservatoire) has an intriguing title Happy Cities: Stitiching the Disconnections. But then this remarkable Leeds-based woman is the author of How to be a Happy Architect.

The massive destruction we see in the news from Chile was caused by the biggest earthquake the world has seen for years. Yet news reports say hundreds of people have died. Tragic though their deaths are, terrifying though the circumstances are for the survivors, we inevitably compare the impact of this earthquake with the vast hellish devastation in Haiti with the hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed amid the rubble.

The emotionally charged stories emanating from Number 10 may seem a long way from this region's economic future, and the role of the automotive industry in it. But the silencing of an alternative view doesn't happen just in Downing Street, nor does the surfacing of that view, if part of reality, stay down for long.

Jonathan Walker's headline Birmingham must lead the way in reviving UK economy is about about the 2010 Cities Outlook published today. At a first reading, I took his headline to mean this city is at the forefront of solving the UK's economic problems.

Not so, as his article goes on to explain. Indeed, the 2010 Cities Outlook makes far less a sanguine read than his headline would suggest.

The Centre for Cities report : University Challenge: Growing the knowledge economy in Birmingham was published yesterday. It's a disconcerting read, shaking what the city believes about itself.

Manufacturing output static. The regional output gap at £15bn. 30% workless in the region, close to 40% in Birmingham.* Of the employed in 2008, only 15% in manufacturing, a figure which has fallen a further 11% this year. (see WMRO)

The seemingly relentless grip of old-style manufacturing on our psyche may shift at last.

I was out of town for the first and, so far, only showing of 1 Day here in Birmingham. So like nearly everyone else here, I haven't seen the film made by the internationally renown Penny Woolcock and a remarkable cast of local men and women including the new-found talent Dylan Duffus.

1_day_01.jpg

Food from Dale End?

By Kate Cooper on Oct 27, 09 08:10 AM in Business

Having raised the issue of food security (along with a low-cost, convivial alternative-style means of regeneration) as a topic for their Annual Conference last week with publication of Roger Levett's essay in Fit for Purpose (see blog entry), the WMRO appears to have promptly ignored it all.

Food.jpgFood after all, appears as if by magic. When the Conference delegates ate their lunch, I'll bet they thought little, if at all, about the fragility of the just-in-time systems that got it there, let alone where on earth it originally came from.

Or, as pertinently, where it all went to. This includes what the food companies chuck at source or in transit, the freegan stuff the supermarkets discard, the 30% we throw away, and the dung we produce.

There was on-line comment and a flurry of emails after last week's entry Green shoots of recovery. This was about Roger Levett's essay on guerrilla spud-growing in the WMRO publication West Midlands: Fit for the Future.

I was led to the eloquent and engaging talk by the architect Carolyn Steel at the 2009 TED Conference in Oxford. She wrote Hungry City: How food shapes our lives.

Thumbnail image for No-45-bus-stop.jpgThe WM Regional Observatory has published a 10-essay collection under the title West Midlands: Fit for the future: Positioning the region for economic recovery.

These essays are to be discussed at their Annual Conference on 20th October.

Only one contribution, however, adds something surprising, even startling to the debate. It is by Roger Levett.

But let's start with the Foreword by Ian Austin MP. I quote: we know what we need to do to make the region the workshop of the world again.


We know? Eh? Workshop of the world? Which century is this man in? Or is he merely pandering to some vague nostalgia about what went on in Matthew Boulton's time?

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