Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Email from Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council


  I have been reading through all the evidence and documentation and I have focused on a section of the evidence session on 1 December that I believe might contain misrepresentation. It is the following exchange:

  Q106 Mr Key: Sir John, one of the reasons we are here today is a compliment to the success of the NIMR campaign against the wishes of the MRC. Did you seek the advice of a media consultant to direct this campaign?

  Sir John Skehel: No. It is very kind of you to say so, but no, we did not.

  Q107 Mr Key: Dr Lovell-Badge, at some stage during last summer did you invite Fiona Fox, Director of the Science Media Centre, to visit NIMR?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: This was in response to the FIS proposals, the Forward Investment Strategy proposals.

  Q108 Mr Key: That is a yes?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: It has nothing to do with the Task Force.

  Sir John Skehel: They certainly did not meet me. I did not know what was going on.

  Dr Lovell-Badge: I know Fiona very well and we had a conversation, it was a very informal chat.

  Q109 Mr Key: Did you ask if she would recommend that you organise demonstrations outside the MRC Head Office and other MRC events?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: No.

  Q110 Mr Key: Did she refuse to help you in that respect?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: We never asked her to help us.

  This does not accord with the account of these events that I have heard directly from Fiona Fox. She told me that she had been invited by Robin to visit the institute for what she assumed would be an informal tour of the facilities to see the kind of research going on there, with an eye to public communication. She says that she was shocked to be led immediately into a room, with some 15 senior scientists (presumably Heads of Division), who questioned her for an hour about how to organize their campaign against the MRC. To say "we had a conversation, it was a very informal chat" does not seem to me to match Fiona's description of this event. She also told me that, while she cannot be sure whether Sir John was present at the meeting, she felt that it was unlikely that the Director of the institute would not have known that such a planned and formal meeting were taking place. She says that she declined an invitation to advise NIMR on its PR campaign and that she suggested that they could employ a consultant. She also suggested that, in view of their position as MRC staff, they should communicate with the MRC press office. They did not, but Fiona reported this encounter to the MRC press office and Communication Affairs Group as soon as she returned to the Science Media Centre.

December 2004

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