Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ecologists rule (well, advise)

I see (belatedly) that John Beddington is going to be the UK government chief science adviser, succeeding David King in January. Beddington is an applied ecologist - specializing in fisheries biology. He'll be the second ecologist out of the past three science advisers - King's predecessor was the legendary Bob May (who, like Beddington, used to work at Imperial College London).

Add to this behavioural ecologist John Krebs' (who, I see, now has the magnificent title of Baron Krebs, making him sound as if he should be wearing a monocle and shooting down British biplanes over the Somme) chairmanship of the Food Standards Agency, and it looks as if ecologists are doing rather well at getting their mitts on the UK's levers of power. (And Krebs and May are now both at Oxford, making it basically an Imperial-Oxford operation).

Why is that? Within science, ecology doesn't strike me as a particularly powerful discipline, in terms of its level of jobs and funding. It's a lot more quantitative than, say, cell biology, which I guess is useful in government, but that doesn't seem like much of an argument. Maybe it's just a blip - May's predecessors were a microbiologist (William Stewart) and a computer engineer (John Fairclough).

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