Wednesday, 4 December 2013

ESRC Future of the UK & Scotland: Science, research and Scottish independence?

By Dr Omid Omidvar

This article was originally produced for the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland blog on 4 December 2013.

In November, two papers were published regarding the future of Scotland. The first, ‘Scotland analysis: Science and research’, written by the UK government, and unveiled by David Willetts, UK Science Minister earlier in November, focuses solely on the issues related to science and research in Scotland, whereas the second one, a Scottish Government White Paper, addresses a whole range of issues associated with independence in Scotland with a brief discussion of the futures of science and higher education in Scotland (Chapter 5- Education, Skills and Employment).

Both papers testify to the strength of the Scottish science base and the contribution of Scottish universities to the UK research base as a whole. They agree on the significance and success of the presently developed research infrastructure, funding system, collaboration platforms and research support organisations across the UK. The importance of the mutually reinforcing research capabilities developed across the boundaries of the UK in a single integrated system goes unquestioned in both papers.

Read the full post

Monday, 2 December 2013

ESRC Future of the UK & Scotland: White paper reflections – Health and Clinical Research

By Dr James Mittra

This article was originally produced for the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland blog on 2 December 2013.

The recently published Scottish White Paper on independence includes a relatively small section on health, social care and the NHS (pages 170-176), as part of a larger chapter on Health, Wellbeing and Social Protection (chapter 4). Like the rest of the document, the narrative is very positive in explaining the many benefits that have come with devolution, such as allowing Scotland to respond to its own national needs, which are different from the rest of the UK. The unique challenges that continue to face Scotland are also outlined and full independence is presented as creating new opportunities to respond to these more effectively. As many commentators have pointed out, however, the document is weighty in terms of the sheer volume of pages, but rather light on detail. This is perhaps unsurprising when considering the range of issues that are implicated in the independence debate.

Read the full post

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Regional Innovation Policies in a Globally Connected Environment: Lessons from Europe

By Dr Michele Mastroeni

This article was originally produced for the CIPS Blog at the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa, as a preview to Michele Mastroeni's CIPS Lecture on 18 October 2013.

Industry leaders and governments have pursued innovation as a source of economic growth for the last two decades. While firms have been striving to harness innovation in order to move beyond their competitors, governments have struggled to find a way to create and maintain an environment that encourages innovation within their jurisdictional boundaries.

The European Union’s efforts to encourage innovation-led economic growth focus predominantly on the regional level of governance, with its most recent approach being ‘Smart Specialisation’. Smart Specialisation offers a potential solution to Europe’s challenges in pursuing its innovation agenda—but as described to date, such an approach is limited.

Read the full post at the CIPS Blog.

'Golden rice', 'wicked' NGOs and the need for rational dialogue

Those opposed to GM crops in developing countries are “wicked”, according to the Environment Secretary,
Owen Paterson.

In a recent interview with The Independent, Mr Paterson backed an open-letter by international scientists calling for the rapid development of “golden rice” – a vitamin A-enhanced rice strain, which scientists believe capable of helping save the lives of around 670,000 children in third world countries who die each year from the deficiency and another 350,000 who go blind.

Mr Paterson attacked NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for their opposition to GM technology.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Interrogation of the ‘inclusive innovation’ concept

By Dr Rebecca Hanlin

Is the Tata Nano an example of ‘inclusive innovation’? What about solar lighting? How do we determine what is inclusive or pro-poor? Is it about the degree of income generation or saving that is created, the degree of viable business opportunity that a new product creates or is it about the process of innovation around the product more generally?

On 6-8 July researchers from around the world gathered at the Open University to discuss these questions, and particularly what we mean by ‘inclusive innovation’. Over one and a half days using a range of interactive sessions – many conducted outside in the sunshine as the UK basked in an heat wave – researchers considered how their own standpoint – and not just current research results – determine how we think about inclusive innovation.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Green Party - A new found faith in science?

By Professor Joyce Tait

Caroline Lucas, MP and Leader of the Green Party, took part in Friday's Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 (Listen here). In her response to a question on whether climate change is man-made - in the context of the IPCC report - she seemed to have rediscovered a faith in science as a basis for policy decision making.
A few choice soundbites:

"This is a rigorous, robust piece of research, compelling"

"We can now put aside the question of whether the science is right ...98% of scientists say that it is ...We should get on and start talking  about what we're going to do about it"

"It is a concern that even as the science becomes more certain, the public opinion is more confused. That is something we absolutely have to address head-on"

"I was quite shocked...At the 1 o'clock news ...A large amount of  time was given over to someone who was bringing the science into doubt."

"We shouldn't only talk in terms of uncertainty but also talk in terms of risk - when you say the word uncertain people think in terms of  ignorant..."

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Interdisciplinary Doctorates for International Development

By Professor James Smith

Engaging with African Neglected Zoonotic Diseases

We are pleased to welcome a cohort of four new PhD students whose doctoral research will focus on how we stop the ‘neglect’ of African Neglected Zoonotic Diseases (NZDs). These ESRC and University of Edinburgh-funded students will contribute to the INZI project.

The group of a dozen or so so-called ‘neglected tropical diseases’ (NTDs) infect one billion people at any one time and more than one third of the world’s population – almost all in the poorest parts of the world - is exposed to these diseases. Infected individuals often suffer from multiple debilitating infections, limiting life and livelihoods, requiring expensive treatment and consequently driving cycles of poverty.

An especially problematic sub-set of NTDs are also zoonotic, and are the focus of this research. These endemic or (re)emerging diseases infect humans and animals, and often transfer by vectors, which presents greater challenges for control and treatment. They are also contingent on changing environmental contexts, and generate new risks in terms of food insecurity and emergent disease.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

OU DPP Guest Blog: Punching above their weight in pursuit of good health

by Julius Mugwagwa

A field trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa in July for meetings and discussions with stakeholders as part of the innovative spending in health project was, as expected, thought-provoking in more ways than one. Discussions with various people in the continuum, from ordinary people and families in rural communities to leading academics and surgeons, revealed that indeed there are many innovative practices being employed for the sake of delivering health to people. As would be expected, the practices have positive and negative effects alike on the individuals, institutions and the broader health care system.

Read the whole story on the DPP Blog.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Life Science Innovation Imperative

By Professor David Wield

Reporting from the Science and Innovation 2013 conference at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster

There is an economic and moral imperative to innovate. Yet, advances in the life sciences meant to deliver significant socio-economic benefits in health, agriculture and the environment are often constrained by developmental and regulatory dynamics. This was the basis for a session organised by the new Innogen Institute (daughter of the ESRC Innogen Centre) on the 'Life Science Innovation Imperative' at the Science and Innovation Conference.

As an Innogen member I was incredibly proud to see our research being picked up and used. Innogen’s four presentations addressed current issues affecting our ability to innovate – covering topics, including innovation and its relationship to the real economy, intellectual property rights, innovation-industrial policy, private and public sector collaborations, and the goals and practicalities of the responsible research and innovation framework - and brought a wide range of positive questions and comments. It’s always good to hear someone say: 'this is the best thing I’ve heard on this topic'.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Transformation in Africa

By Professor David Wield

Reporting from the L2C Learning to Compete conference, 'Industrial Development and Policy in Africa' in Helsinki

Many African economies have been growing quickly in the last decade and are far from the ‘basket cases’ portrayed in many media and, sadly, research reports. The countries I know best, Tanzania and Mozambique, have more than doubled their economic activity in the last ten years – the differences are very tangible in trade and investment data.

But industrial development has been uneven and quite chaotic. Sometimes being on the edge of chaos is good – entrepreneurs can take advantage of opportunities to build new ventures – but chaos can be hard for industrial development, and stability is important for those who take risks.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Want to help remove the Neglect from Neglected Tropical Diseases?

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) infect over a billion people, causing significant illness and death and limiting lives and livelihoods in poor countries. Yet, they have received far less attention than diseases like HIV and malaria and relatively little regarding research, control and treatment.

A particularly problematic subset of NTDs are neglected zoonotic diseases (NZDs) – endemic or (re)emerging diseases that afflict humans and animals, often transferred by vectors, and which present greater challenges for control and treatment. Despite their major impact on animal and human health, such diseases that are transferred between humans and animals are under-sourced in terms of health care provision, and scientific research, cultural, geographical and political aspects are poorly understood.

Friday, 26 April 2013

PhD Studentships on Neglected Zoonotic Diseases in Africa Available

The Centre for African Studies at the University of Edinburgh is looking for three outstanding candidates to explore crucial, yet neglected, issues in the governance of human and animal health.

As part of a new initiative by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the studentships will examine the policies, research activities, and the control, diagnosis and treatment initiatives that aim to control neglected zoonotic diseases (NZDs).

These studentships are highly multidisciplinary and drawing on both the social and biological sciences. Students will receive tailored training from the ESRC Scottish Doctoral Training Centre and the EASTBIO Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership, both based at the University of Edinburgh, before embarking on one of three PhD projects:

1.) Tracing International Policy Networks – focusing on the role of international organisations – for instance the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières - in shaping research into and control of African Trypanosomiasis. The nature of this project means that fluency in French is desirable.

2.) Mapping the post-MDG Agenda – will examine the evidence base, funding streams and policies that shape the future global health agenda in relation to NZDs, especially in the content of debate around the replacement of the current 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

3.) ‘Below the radar innovation’ – will analyse how technological innovation may generate appropriate, sustainable, local-level vector control and diagnostic measures in East and Central Africa.

Students will also have the unique opportunity to work with a wide range of interdisciplinary scholars from the University of Edinburgh School of Social and Political Science, including the Centre for African Studies and the Innogen Institute.

Each of these studentships is fully-funded for four years and will provide an enhanced stipend (c. £15,000 per annum).

We anticipate that successful applicants will already hold a masters degree in an appropriate area of study. These studentships are available to UK citizens or EU citizens who ordinarily resident in the UK.

To be considered please indicate which project you wish to be considered for and attach an academic cv and a letter explaining your suitability and interest to: If you have any queries you can contact James Smith at the same email address.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A BIG impact on the bioeconomy

At the heart of the bioeconomy is a desire to make the world a better and more equitable place to live. From biotechnological advances in health, agriculture and environment, we have the opportunity to cure currently incurable diseases, grow new crops that feed more people, and find cleaner and more efficient energy sources.

There is rapid growth in the European and global bioeconomy. In Europe, the bioeconomy makes €2 trillion a year and employs more than 22 million people, yet as it grows the shortage of people skilled to work in it also increases. Living up to the future promises of the bioeconomy requires a workforce skilled in innovation and governance of scientific, technological and social change.

With unemployment in the Eurozone currently reaching over 20% of those under the age of 25, Europe now has a unique opportunity to overcome the evident mix-match of skills and provide training options and job opportunities that meet labour demands in areas such as agriculture, energy production, health, manufacturing, environmental clean-up, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, while at the same time ensuring its economic competitiveness on the global stage and a better quality of life for its citizens.

Monday, 1 April 2013

OU DPP Guest Blog: Mission Possible

By Julius Mugwagwa, recently in South Africa and Zimbabwe

Spending a week each in South Africa and Zimbabwe doing a pilot study for my new ESRC-funded project on ‘innovative spending in global health’ from the end of February to early March was indeed an eye and ear opener…for me and the various people I met and talked to.

I met and had discussions with people ranging from officials in ministries/departments of health, universities, civil society organisations with activities in the health arena, retail pharmacists, private health practitioners to people going about their everyday lives in cities and rural areas.

The issue of being creative and innovative in raising resources is a dominant one, not only in health, but all facets of human endeavour. In fact, there are all sorts of names and phrases in the local languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe to describe the innovative and entrepreneurial ‘wiring’ of those who are successful at accumulating resources. There is an unwritten consensus that once the resources are there, spending them in an impactful way will not be a problem.

It gave a bit of a jolt, therefore, when I asked the various people I spoke with whether they had stopped for a moment to think about innovative spending?

Read the whole story on the DPP Blog.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Technology Justice and Inspirational Innovation

By James Smith

Technology is inextricably linked to development. Neither exists without the other, each propels the other along, and the successes and failures of both are bound together. However we choose to conceive of development, as a deeply historical process of change or as the small-scale activities non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engage in, as macro-economic policy or community development, technology is always present.

That ubiquity may well be a problem in itself. If we have access to the results of technology - clean water for example - we become blind to the technology itself. From another perspective, if we focus development around targets and end products - improved health, improved education, or access to energy - we may not focus on the technological and knowledge-based building blocks we need to get there (and often it’s not easy to understand for the non-expert, anyway). Technology, and underpinning science, may be hidden both by its presence and its absence.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bill Gates and 'Impatient Optimism'

Bill Gates delivered the BBC’s annual Richard Dimbleby lecture yesterday (29 January 2013). He spoke with great passion about the work and goals of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in particular, his impatient optimism for the eradication of polio.

It is clear that the Gates Foundation has had a profound affect on health provision and innovation in the developing world. The Foundation’s $36 billion endowment alone ensures it is a major player in global health, but its approach and its focus are also highly influential (as some of Innogen’s PPP work attests).

The Foundation favours efficiency and focusing on big solutions - in many respects this is entirely appropriate as we are talking of big problems - and many of these solutions tend to the high tech. Vaccines are a case in point. The history of Jonas Salk and his half century old polio vaccine is both one of innovation, inspiration and public will, and one of lack of access, endless patience and disease. One can see why the story of the polio vaccine inspires, but it ought to caution, too.

Inspiration and innovation, driven by the vision and generosity of the Gates Foundation, are transforming the way health research for development is undertaken (and in many respects the direction it takes). It may take a more patient, or circumspect, optimism to transform the world into a place where vaccines get into the veins of those who most need them, when they are needed.