You would have thought that objections by the President of the Royal Society, Lord Rees, and the Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Professor Lisa Jardine, would carry some weight in a council supposedly dedicated to promoting the public understanding of science. The actions of the men in grey suits suggest that they know little about how science communication actually works.
Scientists forgo large incomes and high status because they have a passion for finding out the truths of nature. Susan is brilliant at communicating that to her audiences. The RI was founded to provide public lectures to foster and maintain public interest and support for science, because its founders realised that the public had to be kept onside and also that passion for science needed to be passed on to the next generations. The RI director is the most important of its assets for these purposes and cannot just be abolished during temporary financial difficulties. The highest authority of the RI is its membership and many members are now so enraged that a special general meeting will take place this month to try to sort out the mess.
This sorry episode reminds me of another ongoing controversy involving grey suits, the governance of Oxford University. There was strong pressure for Oxford to "reform" its governance to have a majority of outside members, bankers and industrialists on its governing council. Despite Oxford's 900-year history of democratic and successful self-government, the insulting implication was that universities could not be trusted to use public money responsibly but would instead spend it all on college port. Bankers, of course, spend their bonuses on the public good. Like the RI, Oxford's ultimate authority is its membership, Congregation, which consists of every member of the teaching staff. I am glad to say that the motion in favour of external control was roundly defeated, because its members reckoned that their leaders should mainly be people who really understood how the university works rather than people who run banks and industry, often badly, and know little of the democratic systems and shared passions that breed good scholars and researchers. But the pressure is still on to provide "transparent accountability" in our governance. Baroness Greenfield has been sacked because the grey suits that Oxford resisted seem to have taken over at the RI. She should be reinstated.