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February 25, 2009

Complaints about BAE sponsorship of science education event

The following was just posted on a listserv, though I can't find it on the press pages of either of the organisations mentioned. Still, I thought it was interesting.

Press Release - For Immediate Release

"Big Bang" Event is really Big BAE, not Science Education

Campaigning organisations Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have jointly condemned the sponsorship of a youth science event by the UK's largest arms company.

Arms manufacturer BAE Systems is a major sponsor of "The Big Bang", a science and technology education event aimed at young people. CAAT and SGR say that BAE's involvement is entirely inappropriate and the sponsorship
deal should be immediately withdrawn. They compare BAE's involvement to allowing Darth Vader to demonstrate his light sabre at a children's party.

The Big Bang - apparently BAE does not see the irony in the title - is to be held at the QEII Centre at Westminster during National Science Week on 4-6 March 2009. Organisers say that 10,000 students and teachers are
expected to attend.

BAE claims that it is sponsoring the Big Bang to encourage cooperation between government, industry and engineering institutions and to "inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and technologists in the

SGR and CAAT say that BAE supports science education in order to recruit more young people into its sphere. However, BAE makes its money by selling weapons, including to some of the world's most dangerous countries. Rather than more weapons, the world needs a green energy revolution and major investment in sustainable science and technology.

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, says:

"The high-profile involvement of BAE Systems in this event sends completely the wrong message to young people. It encourages them to associate science and technology with war, the arms trade and nuclear weapons. We need to offer young people a far more positive vision of how science and technology can be used, one which gives much higher priority to achieving environmental sustainability and social justice, and offers alternatives to the use of military force."

Kaye Stearman, spokesperson for CAAT says:
"BAE Systems is currently involved in court cases and corruption investigations in seven countries. The weapons trade is not a legitimate business. No company can participate in it ethically. The arms trade exacerbates conflicts across the globe and contributes heavily to an increasingly unstable world."


1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade.

2. Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is an independent UK-based membership organisation of 1000 natural and social scientists, engineers, IT professionals and architects. SGR promotes ethical science, design
and technology, based on the principles of openness, accountability, peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.

3. The Big Bang is co-sponsored by oil giant Shell. Partners include the government Department of Innovation, Universities & Skills and the Department Children Schools and Families. Other partners include The
Royal Academy of Engineering, the Engineering & Technology Board, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology.


Kaye Stearman, CAAT
07990 673232

Stuart Parkinson, SGR
07941 953640

February 20, 2009

The Material Text blog

The Department of Typography is involved with a major research theme at Reading called The Material Text. The aim of the theme is to promote interdisciplinary work in 'publishing and the book trade; the history of the book, printing and typography; and the study of the social and communicative functions of texts, whether written, printed, illustrated, performed or mediated.' All good stuff.

I recently became a contributor to the Material Text blog, and although it is young (too young to share the link? nah!), it is very promising, especially considering the breadth of potential contributions! Stay tuned to see how it develops…

February 12, 2009

Boys, books and saving the planet

In her book on masculinities, Raewyn Connell talks about how constraining the sexism of science can be, not just to women who feel pushed towards 'softer' subjects, but also to men who are interested in natural history, ecology, botany or zoology but are made to feel these subjects aren't 'hard' enough (p125-8 in particular). Add to this the problem of boys and books, and what are writers aiming to convert boys to green politics via the literary medium to do?

One approach can be found in Chris 'SAS hero' Ryan's Code Red books - I'm half way through the first in the series, Flash Flood. They look like post-Andy McNab boys-own adventure, but could they be global warming morality tales hiding sneakily behind the spiky-looking fonts and images of fire and lightening?

It starts on a train to Milton Keynes. It's raining. It's England and that's normal so characters just grumble. But it keeps raining. And then the Thames barrier breaks and people start dying. We also see a press conference on environmental policy. The ecologist starts off by saying you might think all this green stuff is boring 70s hippie stuff, but:

We talk about terrorism being the biggest threat facing us today... less than a hundred died in the bombing attempts on London. But thirty thousand people died in the earthquake in Iran and two hundred and eighty-three thousand died in the tsunami in South East Asia... These are the casulties nature can inflict in a war. And it is a war. (Ryan, 2007: 23)

The connection between war and climate change is used as an example of press-conference spin, and the book openly reflects on it as such ('that'll go in the headlines this evening'). But it is a spin to make ecology sound more heroic which is still voiced by the book nonetheless. It reminded me of the whole medicine as war analogy, which in some respects was a way of making medicine seem more masculine.

And the book doesn't hold back when it comes to showing casualties of this war. It is actually quite disturbing for a kid's book. Its also gripping, and so far could be accused of using the prospect of natural disaster as the premise for an adventure. (something I thought the non-fiction Horrible Geography: Wicked Weather seemed to be doing too). I don't know if there will be moralising later on in the book. It'll be interesting to see, and I have several more in the series to go.

February 11, 2009

Michael Faraday Prize Lecture: the cosmology of scientific images

Thought I'd draw attention to the next Michael Faraday Prize Lecture at the Royal Society on Tuesday, February 24. It will be given by Professor John D. Barrow of the University of Cambridge -- a 'cosmologist' (cool!) who will be talking about scientific imagery, societal worldviews, and science communication. It's free and will also be webcast.