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Briefings Archive

launch of consultation on the ethics of new biofuels

In the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate change summit, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a public consultation on the potential of new types of biofuels, such as fuel produced by algae, to provide us with a greener and more ethical source of renewable energy. The SMC hosted this briefing in advance of the official launch to brief journalists on the consultation and the issues involved. read more

BPS: A Blueprint for Safer Prescribing

The SMC hosted this British Pharmacological Society (BPS) briefing on prescribing errors made by newly-qualified doctors in the NHS, and how to promote safer medicine use. read more

prescribing errors – is it safe to let junior doctors prescribe drugs?

Research commissioned by the General Medical Council has explored the causes of prescribing errors made by first year foundation trainee (FY1) doctors, following on from much speculation and media attention over error rates and the impact on patient safety. The research focuses on the interplay between doctors’ educational backgrounds and factors in their practice environments. Evidence-based recommendations have been made to improve patient safety, and experts in this area came to the SMC to discuss the research and its findings, and the recommendations for reducing prescriptions errors in hospitals. read more

high-potency cannabis and risk of psychosis

The British Journal of Psychiatry is publishing new research into the use of high-potency cannabis (skunk) and the risk of psychosis. The study is the first to suggest that the risk of developing psychotic illnesses is greatest among those who are frequent cannabis users, and among those who use skunk rather than traditional hash. The research has important public health implications, given the increased availability and use of high-potency cannabis in the UK, and the researchers came to the SMC to discuss their findings. read more

Antarctic climate change and the environment

The first comprehensive review of the state of Antarctic’s climate and its relationship to the global climate system was published on 1 December by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) – it presents the latest research from the Antarctic, identifies areas for future scientific research, and addresses the urgent questions that policy makers have about Antarctic melting, sea-level rise and biodiversity. Key contributors to the report came to the SMC to brief journalists on their findings and to discuss areas such as the impact and consequences of rapid warming in the region and changes in sea ice around the continent. read more

launch of new RCEP report on artificial light in the environment

A report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on all aspects of artificial light has drawn strong conclusions about damage to the environment caused by putting lights in the wrong place at the wrong time. The report covers areas from the loss of view of the stars to the nuisance caused by bad lighting to the effects of artificial light on our natural ecosystems and calls for urgent government action to address the issues raised. read more

nanotechnology and food: the future’s bright, the future’s tiny?

Nanotechnologies are developing at an increasing rate and they have many exciting potential uses in food and health, but, as with almost any new technology, there are concerns over safety. This briefing highlighted recent developments and discussed whether the consumption of nanoparticles poses a risk, with particular focus on the gut and lung. read more

climate change 101 – the state of the science

With crucial climate talks due to start in Copenhagen on December 7, the SMC, in conjunction with the Met Office, ran this briefing at Westminster to provide a crash course on climate science for political and world affairs journalists planning to report on proceedings in Copenhagen. read more

CO2 – sinks and sources

Efforts to control climate change require the stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which in turn depends on the balance between our own emissions and natural carbon sinks. The Global Carbon Project has evaluated all the available evidence on carbon sinks and sources, the results of which have been published in Nature Geoscience. Two of the authors of the paper briefed journalists in their findings at the SMC. read more

climate change: have we lost the battle?

In the third and final report in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Climate Series, Mitigation, Adaptation and Geo-Engineering (MAG) is proposed as the solution to climate change. The report argues that, to decarbonise the nation and achieve the pledged 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the UK will need to undertake a monumental task at a scale it has never seen before. The report’s authors came to the SMC to lay out the scale of the engineering challenge, the shortfalls of the Climate Act, and the MAG approach to climate change less than a month before crucial climate talks at Copenhagen. read more

handling swine flu from pig to hospital

This briefing, run in conjunction with the BBSRC, the Wellcome Trust and the MRC, was held to launch three new research projects looking at various aspects of swine flu, including the monitoring of pigs in the UK, the numbers of cases in the community and the pattern of spread, and whether hospital cases should be the main focus of concern or if the handling of cases should be changed. read more

announcement of new study on animals containing human material

The Academy of Medical Sciences has launched a new study examining the use of animals containing human material in scientific research. It will bring together leading experts from a wide range of research fields including developmental genetics, clinical neuroscience, veterinary medicine, bioethics and law. It will examine the scientific, social, ethical, safety and regulatory aspects of the creation and use of non-human animals and embryos incorporating human material. Members of the working group came to the SMC to brief journalists on the study and the background issues. read more

expert encounter: Prof David Nutt

Following his controversial sacking from his position as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, David Nutt came to the SMC to give his side of the story, explain why he made his comments on the relative harms of drugs, and talk about some of the interesting topics that are coming up within his own research. read more

aviation 2040

What will the aviation industry look like 30 years from now? Changing economic, political and environmental pressures are set to combine and could shape a very different future for aviation, and carbon rationing, oil availability, reduced disposable income, population growth and the public’s acceptance of air travel could all have an impact. Four provocative scenarios showing how UK aviation could look in 2040 have been set out in a new report published by the Institution of Civil Engineers which was launched at this briefing; the report argues that the debate on UK aviation should be reopened and the future development of airport infrastructure addressed. read more

expert encounter: Prof Gordon Conway

Few people have had a greater influence on science in the developing world than Professor Gordon Conway, through his work as President of the Rockefeller Foundation through to his tenure as Chief Scientific Adviser to DFID where he expanded DFID’s research budget from £35 to £220 million to, a post from which he stood down in July. Now he is back at Imperial College London as Professor of International Development, where he is heading a small team with funding from the Gates Foundation to work with European donors on support for agricultural development in Africa. The SMC invited Prof Conway in for an Expert Encounter to talk about his long and varied career, and his current work. read more

El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

How does the Southern Oscillation affect the weather around the globe? Are we about to enter an El Niño season? And why should we care? This background briefing covered the mechanics of the ENSO cycle, what happens in El Niño and La Niña conditions, and the global impacts of these two very different phenomena. It also explained the current state of the tropical pacific and discuss the current forecast for the coming months, including any implications for the UK and Europe. read more

expert encounter: Prof Robert Langer

Prof Robert Langer’s research laboratory at MIT is the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world and, at 43, he is the youngest person in history to be elected to all three American science academies. He is giving the Millennium Technology Prize lecture at the Wellcome Trust on 22 October; to coincide with this, the SMC invited him in to talk to journalists about his research, which includes areas such as intelligent drug delivery, engineering muscle and blood tissue, and frizz-free hair. read more

50 active years after 50

50 active years after 50 is a research initiative aimed at increasing the quality of life for older people. It draws together multiple research projects, funded by research councils, charities and industry and led by the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE) at the University of Leeds. This briefing featured scientists involved in the initiative talking about how the combined expertise of scientists, engineers, medics and clinicians will lead to the development of new implants, heart valves, tendons and joints that will allow us to remain active in line with increasing life spans. The speakers illustrated their points with the aid of a skeleton on a bike. read more

launch of Declaration on Mental Health

A group of scientists and public figures have launched a Declaration on Mental Health that has been signed by many of the UK’s most influential psychiatrists and mental health experts, and calls on government and other funding agencies to commit to increased investment in mental health research and a ‘re-balancing’ of funding priorities. The SMC invited a panel of leading mental health researchers and scientists to explain why they are supporting the declaration and outline some of the background to the issues. read more

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