Azara Blog: The Lancet attacks the Royal Society

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Date published: 2005/05/21

The BBC says:

The Royal Society, the UK's academy of science, is lazy and rests on its historical laurels, a leading medical journal says.

A Lancet editorial said the oldest scientific academy in the world had done little in the fields of medical science and public health lately.

And the journal accused the Royal Society of being "self serving" and a "superficial cheerleader".

But the Royal Society said the attack was inaccurate and ill-informed.

The Royal Society was set up in 1660 to debate the fast-developing world of science, but is now the UK's academy of science, promoting excellence by funding research, and influencing policy and education.

The most eminent scientists of the day are elected to the fellowship, which in the past has included legendary figures such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin.

But the Lancet said while the Royal Society began as a radical idea, it had now become a "lazy institution, resting on its historical laurels".
Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, a member of the Science and Technology Committee in the last parliament, said: "The Royal Society has produced a number of important and useful reports, but all institutions, including the Lancet, can probably improve their performance."

He also said the controversy over Oxford professor Baroness Greenfield who did not make it on to a shortlist last year to become a fellow of the Royal Society despite being one of the country's most senior scientists had shown it in a negative light.

"I think it is old fashioned and probably sexist."

But Royal Society executive secretary Stephen Cox said the attack was part of a personal campaign by Lancet editor Richard Horton.

What a bizarre editorial by the Lancet. What business is it theirs, one way or the other, to worry about the Royal Society. The Royal Society has not for many years been a focus of research in the UK, and there is nothing wrong with that. The world has moved on with how research is conducted since 1660. The research councils and the Wellcome Trust are the main drivers in the UK today. Everybody also knows the Royal Society journals are second rate but so what, the vast majority of scientific journals are second rate. The main purpose of the Royal Society now is to serve as a club for the best of UK scientists and a few world scientists, and as with most worthy clubs, people who are not members can suffer from petty jealousy. The fact that Greenfield was not elected as a fellow says perhaps more about her than about the Royal Society.

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