OK, so I might be a bit late to this blog party, but I still think the future of the Royal Institution is a current issue.
So to begin, I agree with Martin Robbins.
I have to say, when I first heard that the Ri was being sold I was totally flabbergasted: I didn’t actually know what the Ri was. I had to Google it. And then I saw their website and ‘Ohh, the Royal Institution! They do the Christmas lectures!’ and instantly wanted to help keep the Ri going. My motives were purely associated with the fact that this was (is) another institution that practices science communication and in my books that’s great. There can be no excess of science communication, as there will be no excess of science (as long as people continue to remember someone has to actually do the sciencey bits too).
So I read, and I listened and I remained inert – not wishing to sign petitions because although my knee-jerk reaction is to save something that helps communicate scientific messages something was nagging at me about the whole issue in the discussions I had been reading (i.e. Miodownik’s article and various other Twitter names twittering on about the issue). It wasn’t until I finally got round to looking at the Association of British Science Writer’s Google groups thread on the topic that I actually read Martin Robbins’ inflammatory titled article. And that was when it hit me, I totally agree that the Ri should be sold. That is, the building should.
I honestly believe that we don’t need the building of the Royal Institution to continue the spirit of science and scientific discovery. You don’t need to be there, in that same room, to be able to get excited about Michael Faraday performing the first ever demonstration of electricity, or to feel the importance of science as a whole. What you need is passionate communicators that can do this solely with their words and their own excitement. What will really capture an audience is the passion with which the orator speaks and not the place that they are in – the audience will be transported to another time and place in their minds if their muse is eloquent enough and for this you can be anywhere. We don’t need to forget the history of the Ri, nor do we want to, we just need to realise that to move forward with science letting the building go might be the best option and lets spend that 60 million pounds where it is most needed.
Which is why it is great to see more recently that there is not just discussion and/or outrage about the Ri and the possibility of selling the building. A recent article by Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the Royal Institution outlines their plans for a Future Direction Committee which will determine the new vision for the Ri that includes science communication, advocacy, public engagement and crucially the opinions of the wider scientific community on this vision. Mark Miodownik, a member of the new committee, also put a call out on Twitter asking for views on the future of the Ri to be sent to future [at] ri.ac.uk. So, anyone who was and is up in arms about the whole thing should really make their views heard through this avenue of communication.
I really look forward to how this develops, and I hope that the science community will come up with something innovative and befitting the Ri’s future purpose. And I also hope that whatever the idea, we have the resources to be able to carry it out. As we have seen before with the Ri, great ideas are great until we look at the bank books.