Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science)


  1.  The BA (the British Association for the Advancement of Science) welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to this inquiry, which is of especial importance to its role and activities. Although not formally a Learned Society, the BA is in receipt of Government funds and is particularly concerned with engagement and dialogue between science and the public. For these reasons, it is eager to supplement this submission with oral evidence to the committee.


  2.  The BA was established in 1831 to advance science[1] both in the sense of furthering its development and promoting it to the public. In its early years, it did both with distinction. Over time, it has focused its role in response to changing circumstances so that today its purpose is to communicate with the public about science and to engage the public in discussion and debate about the future directions of science and its impact on society. It is the only organisation in the UK that is truly nation-wide, with a comprehensive multi-disciplinary base and with an open membership that is wholly dedicated to this end. The BA is incorporated by Royal Charter and is a registered charity.

  3.  The BA is recognised around the world for the quality of its programmes, its openness, inclusiveness and innovation. Through its wide range of activities, the BA brings science, and debate about science, to literally millions of people all over this country. Tens of thousands of school children, from five to 18 years of age, benefit from the BA's dynamic and popular programme of science-based activities for young people (paragraph 12). 10,000 people of all ages participate in the BA's annual festival, the extensive media coverage of which touches millions more (paragraph 11). The BA has a strong relationship with the scientific media, not least through its Media Fellowship programme (paragraph 14) and AlphaGalileo, its Internet-based press service, through which more than 2,700 science writers have access to information about current science from 1,350 researchers/organisations and to expert opinion from a database of over 3,600 active scientists (paragraph 13). Media coverage of its major events is outstanding (paragraphs 10,11). Through its publication, Science & Public Affairs, and the S&PA Forums, the BA contributes to serious discussion within the community of science communication, and between communicators, politicians, science funding agencies, etc. The BA coordinates National Science Week, in which some 1.4 million people participate (paragraph 10), and it is a partner in Science Year (paragraph 15). It is constantly seeking to invigorate the interaction of science and the general public, and to find new ways of stimulating dialogue and debate (paragraph 14). Its forthcoming move to the Wellcome Wolfson building at the Science Museum, and its close involvement in the Dana Centre (paragraph 20), will open up new opportunities for the BA to advance its mission.

  4.  The BA is a truly national organisation. There are currently 23 local BA Branches, with plans to increase this to 50 over the next few years. Branches run local programmes. The BA serves as a focus and a partner for a huge number of other organisations that have an interest in promotion of dialogue between science and the public: it has more than 120 Institutional Affiliates and 40 corporate member companies. The BA is an activity-led organisation: paragraphs 9-15 give an indication of the large numbers of people and organisations involved in its activities and media coverage. It also has approximately 3,200 individual members, including science journalists, active researchers, school-teachers and other members of the public who support the mission of the BA. Significantly the individual members of the BA are spread throughout the UK, as the analysis below demonstrates. This analysis also covers schools involved young people's schemes (paragraph 12).

RegionMembers % Schools %
East Midlands43
Merseyside/N Wales3 4
North East41
Northern Ireland13
North West511
South East1818
South West77
West Midlands57
Yorks and Humber55

  5.  In 2001, the BA's expenditure was £2.77 million and its income was £2.88 million. Extracts from the audited financial statements for the year 1 January—31 December 2001 are appended. In that year, the BA had an average of 54 staff, 43 of whom were employed directly by the BA, and 11 contracted. 15 staff were part time. The total reserves of the BA amount to only £700k, the equivalent of three months' expenditure and a low fraction of annual turnover compared with many not-for-profit organisations.


  6.  The BA receives government funds both directly and indirectly. Direct grants from government in 2001 comprised:

    —  £634k from OST project funds to provide core support and support for National Science Week;

    —  £41k from OST for ECSITE-UK, for which the BA acts as fund-holder (paragraph 19).

  Indirect grants included:

    —  £254k from the Royal Society including an annual grant of £185k to support the BA festival, activities for young people and core support; £18.5k towards the costs of publishing Science & Public Affairs; and £50.5k towards the costs of BA-organised COPUS activities (paragraph 22). These funds came from the Royal Society's Parliamentary Grant-in-Aid;

    —  £176k from NESTA towards Science Year (out of an agreed total grant to the BA of £500k). This grant came from funding provided to NESTA by DfES;

    —  the BA also received a number of small grants from Research Councils to support specific events and activities.

  7.  The value of the OST and RS support to the BA cannot be overestimated in terms of its financial importance, its implicit recognition of the value of what the BA does, and because much of it is given effectively as core support. While an RS grant has been made available for many years, OST support for specific initiatives dates from 1993 and for core purposes from some years later. This support, together with the fact that it is now given over a three-year period, has made it possible for the BA to plan ahead with much greater confidence and to develop new initiatives and grasp opportunities. It has also enabled the BA to cope with the inevitable fluctuations in income that face an organisation heavily dependent on grants. As a result the BA has expanded in terms of activities and staff and been able to play, once again, a central role in science communication in the UK. In addition, because of this revitalisation, the Wellcome Trust is providing the BA with a five-year development grant and supporting a new building on the Science Museum site in South Kensington, in part as a future headquarters for the BA.

  8.  The BA has occupied rent-free accommodation since 1972 at 23 Savile Row, London W1 on the basis of a memorandum of terms with the then Department of the Environment. In respect of all the services it receives, the BA pays a service charge to English Heritage, the main occupant of the building. The arrangement dates back to the agreements made with scientific societies for the occupation of Burlington House, where the BA was based from 1891 to 1958.


  9.  The BA is an activity-led organisation, which engages with the public about science and science-based issues. Its activities fall into five groups:

    —  National Science Week;

    —  The annual BA Festival of Science;

    —  Activities for Young People;

    —  AlphaGalileo; and

    —  Science communication initiatives.

  10.  National Science Week: With support from the OST, the BA initiated the first National Science Week in 1994 and has continued to coordinate it since then. In 2001—the last year for which detailed records are available—some 1,475 organisations and institutions arranged 6,200 opportunities for the public to take part in activities right across the UK. It is estimated that 1.4 million did so. In addition, extensive media coverage, particularly at local level, meant that the week impinged upon many millions more. Many countries organise science weeks but the UK week is the envy of many. We believe that it works well because of:

    —  the large number of bodies—educational institutions at all levels, museums, science centres, libraries, local groups, Research Councils, Scientific Societies—that are involved in science communication and which are eager to participate;

    —  the nature of the co-ordination provide by the BA, which encourages organisations to get involved by supporting organisers with materials, ideas, examples of best practice and PR guidelines; produces printed and online versions of the national programme; promotes the week; and exercises central control with a light touch;

    —  extensive media interest and involvement;

    —  enthusiastic support from government including the provision, through Copus, of small grants to support events and activities.

  National Science Week is a good example of a win-win situation. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts and everyone involved benefits. It is also an excellent example of an activity-led way of getting the UK's large and diverse science communication community working together, and an indicator of the important role that the BA can play in this process.

  11.  The BA Festival of Science: The BA's Festival of Science—originally its Annual Meeting—has been held, with the exception of breaks in the two world wars, every year since the BA was founded in 1831. The most distinctive feature of the event, held in September, is its exceptionally high level of media coverage. Some 200 journalists register in the press centre and reports from the event can be found on radio and television, in newspapers and magazines both locally and nationally in the UK, and also overseas. This promotes and raises the profile of science and increases the status of scientists.

  The festival demonstrates the BA's commitment to be a nationwide organisation. In its 170-year history, the event has been held in London only twice, in 1931 and 2000. Otherwise it has been held throughout the length and breadth of the UK—and on a few occasions in former years in Canada, Australia and South Africa. Today it is usually today held in conjunction with a local university.

  The festival's core programme consists of some 300-400 presentations on recent scientific advances and their implications by scientists from a wide range of disciplines, including mathematical, medical and social sciences and engineering. Increasingly we try to ensure that these presentations form a basis for discussion and dialogue rather than being an end in themselves. The BA centrally arranges additional dialogue-focused events as part of the core programme. A programme committee is responsible for the overall shape of the programme, which consists of contributions from the BA's own scientific sections and from others who submit proposals, including the host university, Research Councils, companies and scientific and engineering societies and institutions.

  The festival's core audience is scientifically "attentive" but largely non-specialist and comes from a wide variety of backgrounds and age groups. It includes a significant number of young people aged 16-18. In addition to the core programme, there are hands-on, workshop-based activities for five- to 13-year-olds and events for the more general public in the locality of the festival. Altogether some 10,000 people typically attend the festival but it impacts upon millions when the media coverage is taken into account.

  12.  Young People's activities: The BA arranges a variety of events and activities for young people, designed to fulfil a number of purposes. Science and technology-based activity days are run in different parts of the country to excite young people about science. They regularly attract thousands of youngsters, with teachers and/or parents for science-based workshops, demonstrations, drama and other activities.

  To give recognition to investigations and project work and in order to give young people some real experience of science, the BA runs three award schemes. First Investigators, Young Investigators and CREST cater for 5s-7s, 8s-13s and 12s-18s respectively. Each offers graded awards (eg bronze, silver gold) depending on the complexity of the work undertaken and the length of time involved. Currently nearly 3,000 groups, mainly based in schools, work towards the First and Young Investigator Awards and, in 2001, 26,000 young people from nearly 900 schools gained CREST Awards. SETPOINTS, with which the BA works closely in the delivery of these schemes, report that Young Investigators and CREST are the most widely used of their type in the country. The BA is committed to work towards rationalisation of such schemes.

  At the annual BA Science Fair young people with outstanding projects are selected to represent the UK at international science events and competitions, including an opportunity for one young person to attend the Nobel Prize presentations during the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar.

  We are also committed to encourage the development of communication and critical thinking skills in young people. Visions for the Future gives 16s-18s the chance through online debates and live events to have informed discussions of critical issues such as global warming, future energy supplies, transport, food supply and cloning. Science Communicators encourages achievements in communication in much the same way as the project award schemes do.

  13.  AlphaGalileo: AlphaGalileo is an internet-based press service for European science, engineering and technology—to which arts and humanities are shortly to be added. AlphaGalileo essentially provides a single site through which European research and other scientific news from universities, research institutions, journals etc can be made available to journalists worldwide on their desktops. The site also incorporates the former Novartis Media Resource Service in the form of a database of experts prepared to provide background and comment on scientific developments and issues. AlphaGalileo is currently funded by an EC grant, which runs until the end of March 2003. Partner organisations provide national offices in five other European countries—France, Greece, Germany, Portugal and Sweden—and other partners are being sought. Currently some 1,350 individuals are registered to provide information; there are over 2,700 registered users (journalists); and more than 3,600 on the experts' database. AlphaGalileo originated in PPARC, which passed its management to the BA in 1987 when it was felt that a more broadly based and communication-focused body would be more appropriate. The BA is actively addressing the challenge of how to sustain AlpahGalileo when the current EC grant comes to an end in 2003.

  14.  Science Communication initiatives: The BA is responsible for a number of other science communication initiatives. Science & Public Affairs is a bi-monthly magazine that focuses on science-related public issues. It started life as a Royal Society journal, became a joint RS/BA magazine in 1991 and a BA publication produced with tapering RS support in 1999. It is currently sent to BA members and circulated, gratis, to a number of key people in government, parliament, the civil service and industry.

  S&PA Forums were started in 1999 to provide opportunities for more extended discussion of some of the issues covered in the magazine. Since their inception, the major part of the time at each forum has been dedicated to discussion of varying points of view presented briefly by a panel of experts and interested parties. Forums have been held at a variety of venues in London, including bookshops as well as more traditional venues, and are increasingly being held in other parts of the country.

  SciBArs, which also take place in different parts of the country, are discussions based in wine bars or pubs, initiated by one or two brief contributions from experts. They noticeable attract a much younger audience than S&PA Forums and are in line with the BA's efforts to reach new audiences, use public-friendly venues and explore new forms of engagement with the public.

  A series of lunchtime conversations between scientists ad the minister of Wesley's Chapel in central London also contributed to this exploration.

  Media Fellowships were first established by the BA, as part of its contribution to Copus, in 1987 and have continued since then, now as a BA activity. Each year they provide up to ten, younger working scientists with an opportunity to spend six to eight weeks working in TV, radio, newspaper or magazine, under the guidance of a science journalist mentor. Their aim is to improve scientists' appreciation of the media and improve their communication skills—not to encourage them to become journalists, although some have done so. We have received consistently enthusiastic and positive feedback from fellows and media hosts alike every year.

  15.  The BA's key role in science communication led to it being chosen by the DfES, together with the ASE, to be a strategic partner of NESTA for Science Year. This has provided us with the opportunity to undertake a number of Science Year activities. We have divided these between the development of new and one-off initiatives on the one hand and the development and extension of existing activities to ensure their continuation beyond Science Year on the other. Among our one-off activities has been LaughLab, a web-based experiment run in conjunction with the University of Hertfordshire, to find the world's funniest joke and to try to reach a better understanding of why people of different backgrounds, eg gender or nationality, respond to jokes differently. LaughLab was launched at the BA festival last September and interim results were announced just before Christmas. Both occasions led to huge media exposure and to massive use of the website. To date 27,000 jokes have been submitted and 300,000 people have rated jokes. Other one-off activities have included the development of Footprints, a play for key stage 3 about genetics, and Discovery Day when over 3,000 10-14 year olds enjoyed a day of hands-on activities and workshops at the Royal Albert Hall in London.


  16.  The BA believes that both Academies play an important role in the life of British science and engineering. The BA has enjoyed long-standing support from the Royal Society and a constructive working relationship (paragraph 20) from which it believes both organisations have benefited. The BA also enjoys positive links with the Royal Academy of Engineering through its support for the BA's Engineering Section and through links between the Engineering Education Scheme and CREST Awards.

  17.  As the Academy of Science the RS has direct access to the sources of the UK's scientific excellence and is, in consequence, well placed to represent the views of the UK scientific community to the government and others and to provide to them the best scientific advice that is available. The Society also mounts an excellent programme of public events tailored to its situation, role and location. In addition to its public lectures, summer exhibition and support for research in schools, we believe that recent developments such as that to link its University Research Fellows with Members of Parliament are excellent and exactly the sort of initiative that the Society's position makes it best suited to play.

  18.  With different purposes, different memberships, different audiences and different geographical bases, the BA and the RS complement each other in terms of science communication. It is important for UK science and for the UK as a whole that the Royal Society should focus on and utilise its pre-eminent strengths in promoting scientific excellence and providing advice of the highest quality. We believe that it should see its "public audiences" predominantly as those groups to which it has unrivalled access—the upper echelons of government, Parliament, the Civil Service and industry, who constitute the key decision makers and opinion formers in our society. The Royal Society's summer exhibitions and its public programme of events, usually jointly with other academies and societies, are making an important contribution to the intellectual life of the capital. But we think that it would be inappropriate to expect the Royal Society to change its role from one of leadership within the scientific community to one of public engagement of the type that is already being done so well by the BA. Consequently, we believe that it is crucial for the Royal Society to be able to continue to support bodies, such as the BA, that can more readily access other "publics" across the UK.


  19.  In addition to its own initiatives, the BA works closely with other bodies in a variety of ways. Significantly, it provides an office base for the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), with which it has a long-standing relationship, and for the recently established network of Science and Discovery Centres, ECSITE-UK. The BA believes that the co-location of such bodies is an excellent way to stimulate cooperation and coordination, and avoid duplication of effort.

  20.  Over the years the BA has enjoyed and benefited from excellent working relationships with other bodies. These include the Royal Society, with which we have worked together in Copus (paragraph 22), on Science & Public Affairs and in the Royal Society/British Association Millennium Award Scheme, which attracted a grant of £1.5 million from the Millennium Commission. We also work with the ASE, SETNET and SETPOINTS. In preparation for the opening of the new Wellcome Wolfson Building in South Kensington next year, we are working closely with the Science Museum, particularly on the development of activities for the Dana Centre within the building, which will be focused on developing new forms of activity to promote dialogue between scientists and the public, and promulgating them nationally.

  21.  The BA believes that new opportunities are emerging for increased cooperation across science and engineering. In particular, the development of the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB), with a commitment to public communication, suggests that a synergy could be developed between the Royal Academy of Engineering, the ETB, the Royal Society and the BA. The forthcoming BA Presidency of Sir Peter Williams, the founding Chairman of the ETB, in 2002-03 could be an ideal opportunity to explore this.

  22.  The BA has been an active partner in, and supporter of, Copus since it was set up in 1986 as a joint committee of the Royal Society, the Royal Institution and the BA. The BA has generally taken the lead in delivering those parts of any proposed Copus programme that were akin to or overlapped significantly with the BA's existing role. In that spirit the BA has supported the vision for the new Copus which sees it not as an activity-led grouping but one undertaking tasks, for example research and the development and dissemination of best practice, that support the science communication community overall. In line with previous comments on the value of co-location (paragraph 19), the BA believes that the co-location of Copus with the BA in the Wellcome Wolfson Building would be a creative and positive step in the right direction.

  23.  The UK's science communication community has expanded explosively since the mid-1980s and continues to do so. The BA has been a significant part of that expansion and is continuing to grow and to develop the essential two-way dialogue and informed debate that 21st Century science communication should be all about. In all this, some greater cohesion and co-operation would be desirable. The BA's track record in that respect is well evidenced by its co-ordination of National Science Week; by the role of our Festival in creating the largest annual gathering of science journalists and of science communicators, and in the 120 affiliated institutions in membership of the BA.

April 2002


Total 2001 2000
£ ££ £
Grants801,750 1,300,1932,101,9431,850,133
Subscriptions264,432 264,432195,521
Events income163,863 2,710166,573142,063
Donations717 5076725,073
Investment income23,066 23,06620,494
Bank interest8,587 8,58710,178
Other income37,053 37,05323,770
creating SPARKS (recovery of
BA overheads)

Total Incoming Resources
1,299,4681,580,2852,879,753 2,669,041

Direct Charitable Expenditure
Festival of Science318,439318,439357,7711
National Science Week 184,791184,791 173,362
Young people's programme 333,963333,963 294,457
Science Communication Initiatives 119,116119,116 86,400
Branches, Membership and Regional
Science Year186,103186,103-
creating SPARKS -(4,100)(4,100) 114,000
ECSITE—UK- 22,72822,728-
Activity support costs -295,115295,115 327,309

Total Direct Charitable Expenditure
481,8741,968,632 2,450,5062,430,984
Other expenditure:
Fundraising, marketing and public
Planning and control201,553 201,553199,302

Total resources expended
2 805,3471,968,6322,773,979 2,787,720

Net incoming/(outgoing) resources
before transfers
494,121(388,347) 105,774(118,679)
Transfer between funds3 (388,349)388,349
Net incoming/(outgoing) resources 105,7722105,774 (118,679)
(Losses)/Gains on investment assets5 (55,045)(55,045) (39,727)

Net movement in funds
50,727250,729 (158,406)
Balances brought forward at 1.1.01 646,58217,605664,187 822,593

Balances carried forward at 31.12.01
697,30917,607 714,916664,187

1   The BA embraces the natural and social sciences, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Back

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