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After spending much of November writing about organisations who are in danger of becoming irrelevant in the digital age one I missed out on was the Royal Society. Richard Wrays piece Keep science off web, say Royal Society and Robin McKie’s editorial commentary in yesterdays Observer sums up much of what is currently wrong within both the Royal Society in particular and the British scientific community in general. Last week I spoke with a former up and coming scientific star who became so disillusioned with the bureaucracy within Britain that she packed it all in and setup her own business in a completely unrelated field. We spoke about how bureacracy within both the US and Britain is stifiling scientific innovation and how new locations (such as Singapore within biotech) are emerging in their place. The Royal Society would do well to revisit its roots should it wish to retain any hope of remaining relevant in the 21st century. John Gribbin recently wrote a great book called The Fellowship which traces the early years of the Royal Society. It details how the organisation was born from its founders embracing the spirit of openess. Looking at its current funding arrangements casts further light as to how their successors over the years have lost the very independence which enabled its founders to lead the scientifc revolution from the end of the 1640’s. Given the word science (which stems from the Latin scientia which means knowledge) did not appear until the 19th century it is fair to say that the Royal Society as we know it today is but a pale shadow of its former self. Its founders would have identified with David Weinberger when he recently said ‘knowledge is a never ending conversation’. Something the current fellows of the Royal Society fail to understand.


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