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Last Updated: Friday, 20 May, 2005, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Royal Society lazy, says Lancet
Microscope, BBC
The Royal Society promotes excellence in science
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.

The Royal Society was set up in 1660 to debate science
Since then its scope has widened to funding scientific research, promoting education and influencing policy
The most eminent scientists of the day are elected to its fellowship, of which there are currently 1,300 members
Past fellows have included 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".

And the journal added: "Instead of being the intellectual hub of European scientific culture, it has reinvented itself as something far more self-serving and parochial.

"It is little more than a shrill and superficial cheerleader for British science."

The journal went on to unfavourably compare the Royal Society, which receives two-thirds of its funding from the government, to the Institute of Medicine in the US.

It said the institute had become a "vital contributor to American life" researching 17 areas of science from child health to ageing. This year alone it had produced 20 reports, the editorial said.


Whereas, the Royal Society had launched inquiries into non-human primate research and pharmacogenetics, the journal said.

The Lancet concluded by calling for English Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, who has been put forward to be the next president, to begin a review of the organisation.

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.

He pointed out that a quarter of the 30m the Royal Society invests in research each year is spent on the biomedical field.

And he said the society had held six "high-profile" international scientific meetings on human health and medicine in the last two years.

He added: "The editorial paints a wholly inaccurate and astonishingly ill-informed picture of the Royal Society that will be unrecognisable to anybody who is familiar with the society's activities."

Greenfield in list omission fuss
30 Apr 04 |  Science/Nature
Women scientists 'losing out'
28 Nov 02 |  Science/Nature

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