Science Online London: Day n-1…

by Jim Caryl

I ARRIVED in London today ahead of tomorrow’s Science Onine 2009 meeting. Having a bizarrely uneventful travelling experience, both to and within London, was a great start. London in August seems to have a special kind of heat, hot and stuffy in a way that only large cities can be, but then you descend into the lower tube lines to discover yet a new flavour of heat, slow cooked.

I remember walking through the tube tunnels as a child and being deeply flustered, owing in part to having just seen ‘An American Werewolf in London’, and we all know what happens when you encounter a Werewolf in a tube tunnel don’t we? This time however I was too occupied thinking about the pressure differentials through the tube network as I enjoyed the tremendous cooling winds as you ascend the levels. Perspectives change.

The Albert Hall today

I’m staying next to the Albert Hall at Imperial College’s Beit Hall, with the above scene (taken today) available within 1 minute of leaving my room; a pretty good location really, near Knightsbridge, and opposite Hyde Park.

I have memorised the Piccadilly Line, so it will be my linear feature for navigating London this weekend. I got myself to Piccadilly Circus, and from there to The Royal Institution, and then on to Soho where I made a bee-line for Flat White (to finally renew my love for the antipodean ‘Flattie’ coffee), and get some food at Princi, a most excellent Italian delicatessen, owned by London’s Armani of bread.

The UnconferenceFinally, I made it to the FringeFrivolous ‘unconference’ event at Mendeley‘s building in Camden, the preamble ahead of tomorrow’s main event. It was a good session over all, with valid points raised; though a sticking point was the poor relationship between science, well, academic science at least, and public-relations. Furthermore, there seems to be a tendency amongst academics that courting the media may result in (a perceived, true or otherwise) sacrifice of integrity, and perhaps even respect, within the community.

It’s true to say that some people who raise their heads a little high in the community are liable to risk having them taken off, but then this is true in any academic community. Science does need good public relations, though it was argued by some that this was itself getting into bed with the devil; public relations being seen as lying for a living. I’d be inclined not to agree, I think perhaps that there is nothing wrong with public relations, it would just help if more of the people doing the PR had a science background, rather than being journalists.

Also discussed was whether science needs a Trinny & Suzanna make-over? Certainly it’s useful to achieve a middle ground between being so completely aloof and oddballish as to wantonly frighten away the media, and opposite extreme of being suit-slicked and media trained ‘within an inch of your life‘.

What is for sure is that my brain is going to be running at 100% cpu tomorrow, so I better stay hydrated!

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