Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baroness Susan Greenfield, female science role model, dismissed unfairly from the Royal Insititution?

This statement put out by the Royal Institution of Great Britain January 8, 2010:

"The Trustees of the Royal Institution of Great Britain have completed the first stage of a governance review and as a consequence have concluded, that the requirement for the functions of the role of Director as currently defined has ceased to exist. We are therefore sad to announce that Baroness Susan Greenfield left the Ri on 08/01/2010."


"Baroness Greenfield has played a leading role, not only in the development of the Ri, but also in the wider scientific community through her work in popularising science. In her twelve years as Director of the Ri, she was the driving force behind numerous initiatives, notably, the recent visionary refurbishment project and the renowned Science Media Centre."

Why release her then? Why not allow the successful Baroness to ..

"focus on strengthening its finances, fundraising, and addressing the organisational governance to ensure the Ri continues to deliver its many, diverse and renowned activities in scientific research, education and public engagement."

Would the Royal Institution have acted in this manner if the Director position had been held by a male? Why ignore Susan's significant contribution and treat her thus:

Britain's most prominent female scientist, Susan Greenfield, was locked out of her grace-and-favour flat in central London within hours of being made redundant on Friday by the Royal Institution.

The 59-year-old neuroscientist, who had been director of the institution since 1998, has now consulted a QC over the decision to serve her with redundancy papers. Sources say Baroness Greenfield was offered a "generous" redundancy package and glowing tributes if she agreed to leave her post, but refused. She is now planning to make a sex discrimination claim following the institution trustees' move to axe her position.

Friends claim an "old boys' club" culture in the institution has led to the move. "I am the only female appointed to this iconic post throughout the 211-year history of the Royal Institution and cannot see how this decision can be in the best interests of the organisation or its members," Greenfield said.

This decision was denounced by Professor Lisa Jardine, a former member of its governing council. "The institution has always had a charismatic scientist as its director. To get rid of the post suggests it has decided to commit suicide. Susan has done her job superbly and did not deserve to be escorted off the premises on Friday. We are allowing one of our most important scientific institutions (where Sir Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday once worked) to go to the wall."

... news on Friday stunned the institution. Staff were given 30 minutes' notice to attend a meeting at which the chief executive, Chris Rofe, announced her redundancy. "There was absolute silence when we were told," said one worker.(Guardian)

Shocking, absolutely shocking.

Accusations cast upon the Baroness, and other notable scientists, include self-promotion; communicating science to the masses is often followed with such charges from quarters who really ought to weigh the 'crime' against how much others are inspired, and influenced in a positive way. For goodness sake the world and the UK suffers from a desperate shortage of high-profile scientists, especially female science role-models.

Not overlooking that the Baroness divides scientists, with followers (Times report), and decriers including Dr. Ben Goldacre, who writes in his blog:

"In my view her argument [about computers damaging childrens brains] is pretty thin, and the goalposts and extremities of the claims seem to me to shift depending on the audience. All I have said is: write it up in an academic journal, making your hypothesis clear, set out the evidence, and set out what evidence you think should be gathered. ... Baroness Greenfield launched her own personally endorsed range of very expensive computer games to train your brain in the House of Lords, to much media fanfare in the Times, Telegraph, BBC and more."

The world demands practicality from science, but when science does produce, occasionally its producers are attacked for profiteering! While there is a strong argument for academic papers, Ben Goldacre's comments infer that the peer-review process is perfect, that reviewers are truly experts in the field they are assessing and that they don't allow garbage, assumption-based hocus pocus through for publication. However, watching family youngsters at play with their various computing devices, I disagree with the Baroness and believe children are more social; they're able to be more interactive with other humans via machines - whether it's a mobile 'phone, playstations, Wii, etc., than children were thirty years ago.

Nonetheless, it is a brave person that takes on the establishment: the Ri will have to answer for their actions in an Employment Tribunal, the Baroness is suing for 'sex discrimination':

"Redundancy is supposed to be about the post, not the person. So my personal performance should not be relevant." (Guardian). "She said she could not comment on other specifics of her claim, but said they would include allegations of sexual discrimination." (Telegraph).

Ri's action unwittingly sends out a signal, that it is better for rung-climbing fecund scientists to curb their personality, inhibit it so as not to clash with fellow climbers and those looking down above the glass ceiling. Apt quote for the Baroness's predicament: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds" (Albert Einstein)

Not a propitious moment for the Ri celebrating "200 years as a member organisation". Wish Susan Greenfield, the charismatic neurologist all the best with her case and her future.

Update January 11, 2010: (Ironically) The Royal Institution to host 'Women of Substance: Inspiring Women in STEM' event!!!! Link

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