British Science Association

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The British Science Association, formerly known as British Association for the Advancement of Science or the BA, (founded 1831) is a learned society with the object of promoting science, directing general attention to scientific matters, and facilitating interaction between scientific workers. Its youth wing is the British Association of Young Scientists.

History[edit]

Foundation[edit]

The Association was founded in 1831[1] and modelled on the German Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte.[2] The prime mover (who is regarded as the main founder) was Reverend William Vernon Harcourt, following a suggestion by Sir David Brewster, who was disillusioned with the elitist and conservative attitude of the Royal Society. Brewster, Charles Babbage, William Whewell and J. F. W. Johnston[3] are also considered to be founding members. The first meeting was held in York (at the Yorkshire Museum) on Tuesday 27 September 1831 with various scientific papers being presented on the following days. It was chaired by Lord Milton[disambiguation needed], President of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and "upwards of 300 gentlemen" attended the meeting.[4] The Preston Mercury recorded that those gathered consisted of "persons of distinction from various parts of the kingdom, together with several of the gentry of Yorkshire and the members of philosopher societies in this country". The newspaper published the names of over a hundred of those attending and these included, amongst others, eighteen clergymen, eleven doctors, four knights, two Viscounts and one Lord.[5]

From that date onwards a meeting was held annually at a place chosen at a previous meeting. In 1832, for example, the meeting was held in Oxford, chaired by Reverend Dr William Buckland. By this stage the Association had four sections: Physics (including Mathematics and Mechanical Arts), Chemistry (including Mineralogy and Chemical Arts), Geology (including Geography) and Natural History.[6]

One of the most famous events linked to the Association Meeting was an exchange between Thomas Henry Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in 1860 (see the 1860 Oxford evolution debate). Although it is often described as a "debate", the exchange occurred after the presentation of a paper by Prof Draper of New York, on the intellectual development of Europe with relation to Darwin's theory (one of a number of scientific papers presented during the week) and the subsequent discussion involved a number of other participants (although Wilberforce and Huxley were the most prominent).[7] Although a number of newspapers made passing references to the exchange,[8] it was not until later that it was accorded greater significance in the evolution debate.[9]

Ironically, perhaps the Association's most momentous influence on science was in 1878 when a committee of the Association recommended against constructing Charles Babbage's analytical engine.[10]

The Association was parodied by English novelist Charles Dickens as 'The Mudfog Society for the Advancement of Everything' in The Mudfog Papers (1837–38).

Perception of science in the UK[edit]

The Association's main aim is to improve the perception of science and scientists in the UK. Membership is open to all.

Prof Sir George Porter, on becoming President in September 1985, was scathing against so-called 'soft sciences' such as psychology, and even economics (both part of the Association). He claimed that academics in these areas were far too eager to try to put unsubstantiated assertions into practice on the public and that undergraduates were often taught unsubstantiated assertions, as if they had been established by rigorous scientific method. He claimed this was damaging the public perception of science.

The following September he said that the general level of scientific understanding in Britain was lamentably low, with many senior politicians, religious leaders and controllers of the media scientifically uneducated. He said of Britain's education system that although it provides the finest education anywhere for the young man or woman who wants to be an academic scientist, it leaves the majority ignorant of the scientific world where they will live and work and it was the duty of scientists to drag kicking and screaming into the twenty first century those who have no taste for the subject. On science education in schools he said of all the many crises in education and science, perhaps the most serious is the disappearing species of the good teacher of physics, mathematics and to a lesser extent the other sciences and that if it is allowed to go much further, there will be no recovery for generations, comparing it to China's Cultural Revolution which he said produced a lost generation.

Sir Kenneth Durham, former Director of Research at Unilever, on becoming President in August 1987 followed on from Sir George Porter saying that science teachers needed extra pay to overcome the scarcity of mathematics and physics teachers in secondary schools, and that unless we deal with this as matter of urgency, the outlook for our manufacturing future is bleak. He regretted that headmasters and careers masters had for many years followed 'the cult of Oxbridge' because it carried more prestige to read Classics at Oxbridge and go into the Civil Service or banking, than to read engineering at, say, Salford, and go into manufacturing industry. He said that reporting of sciences gave good coverage to medical science, but that nevertheless, editors ought to be sensitive to developments in areas such as solid state physics, astro-physics, colloid science, molecular biology, transmission of stimuli along nerve fibres, and so on, and that newspaper editors were in danger of waiting for disasters before the scientific factors involved in the incidents were explained.

In September 2001 Sir William Stewart, as outgoing president, warned that universities faced 'dumbing down' and that we can deliver social inclusiveness, and the best universities, but not both from a limited amount of money. We run the risk of doing neither well. Universities are underfunded, and must not be seen simply as a substitute for National Service to keep youngsters off the dole queue. He also said scientists have to be careful and consider the full implications of what they are seeking to achieve. The problem with some clever people is that they find cleverer ways of being stupid.

In September 2003 Sir Peter Williams, the outgoing president, said that the world was facing a shortage of scientists because too many young people dropped the subject at an early age.

British Science Festival[edit]

The Association's major emphasis in recent decades has been on public engagement in science. Its annual meeting, now called the British Science Festival, is the largest public showcase for science in the UK and attracts a great deal of media attention. It is held at UK universities in early September for one week, with visits to science-related local cultural attractions. It used to be called "BAYS Day", after the British Association of Young Scientists.

The 2010 Festival, held in Birmingham with Aston University as lead University partner, featured a prank event: the unveiling of Dulcis foetidus, a fictional plant purported to emit a pungent odour. An experiment in herd mentality, some audience members were induced into believing they could smell it.[11] The Festival also hosts the x-change- a lively informal roundup of the day's events where festival-goers can ask questions, debate and hear star speakers. The Festival has also been the home to protest and debate. In 1970 there were protestors over the use of science for weapons.

Science Communication Conference[edit]

The Association holds an annual Science Communication Conference, the largest in the UK, which addresses the key issues facing science communicators. Each year it brings together 350 delegates involved in public engagement; from science educators, science centre communicators, journalists, scientists and policy makers. In 2011, the theme of the conference was 'Online Engagement'. The 2012 Science Communication Conference will be held on 14–15 May at Kings Place, London with the theme 'Impact'.

British Science Week[edit]

In addition to the Festival of Science, the British Science Association organises the British Science Week (formerly National Science & Engineering Week), an opportunity for people of all ages to get involved in science, engineering, technology and maths activities, originating as the National Week of Science, Engineering and Technology.[12]

The Association also has a young people's programme, which seeks to involve school students in science beyond the school curriculum, and to encourage them to consider higher education and careers in science.

Name change[edit]

In 2009 the Association rebranded itself and now uses the trading name British Science Association instead of the BA.[13] The new name is often abbreviated to BSA.

Presidents of the British Science Association[edit]

Traditionally the president is elected at the meeting usually held in August/September for a one year term and gives a presidential address upon retiring. The honour of the presidency is traditionally bestowed only once per individual. Written sources that give the year of presidency as a single year generally mean the year in which the presidential address is given.

List of Annual Meetings[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ James, Frank A.J.L. (2013). "British Association for the Advancement of Science". In Hessenbruch, Arne. Reader's Guide to the History of Science. Routledge. pp. 106–107. 
  2. ^ The German organisation was founded in 1822, see Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte (German language Wikipedia article).
  3. ^ David Knight, 'Johnston, James Finlay Weir (1796–1855)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  4. ^ Caledonian Mercury, 6 October 1831.
  5. ^ Preston Chronicle, 8 October 1831.
  6. ^ Jackson's Oxford Journal, 23 June 1832.
  7. ^ Oxford Chronicle, 7 July 1860.
  8. ^ Liverpool Mercury, 5 July 1860.
  9. ^ Jackson's Oxford Journal, 4 August 1894.
  10. ^ Report of the BA committee on the Analytical Engine of Charles Babbage: "appointed to consider the advisability and to estimate the expense of constructing Mr. Babbage's Analytical Machine, and of printing Tables by its means"..
  11. ^ David Gregory (16 September 2010). "'Greatest smell' tests audience". BBC Birmingham. Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
  12. ^ "British Science Week". British Science Association. Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
  13. ^ Robert Winston, New Scientist, 3 February 2009.
  14. ^ "Table showing the Places and Times of Meeting of the British Association, with Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and Local Secretaries, from its Commencement". Report of the Seventy-sixth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in York in August 1906. London: John Murray. 1907. p. xxxviii. 
  15. ^ "Table showing the Places and Times of Meeting of the British Association, with Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and Local Secretaries, from its Commencement". Report of the Fifty-third Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Southport in September 1883. London: John Murray. 1884. p. xxx. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Report of the twenty-first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
  17. ^ "Table showing the Places and Times of Meeting of the British Association, with Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and Local Secretaries, from its Commencement". Report of the Thirty-sixth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Nottingham in August 1866. London: John Murray. 1867. p. xx. 
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  78. ^ Recent developments in electro-organic synthesis, Manuel M. Baizer, Naturwissenschaften August 1969, Volume 56, Issue 8, pp. 405–409.
  79. ^ "THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE: THE EXETER MEETING". Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  80. ^ "THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE: ANNUAL MEETING 1972, AT LEICESTER". Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  81. ^ "Energy in the balance : some papers from BA79 : papers given at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 1979". Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  82. ^ "The BA at the end of the 20th Century" (pdf). Retrieved 30 September 2013. 

External links[edit]

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