One of Britain’s best-known science media tarts has just been given her marching orders.
Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, one-time neurologist and until yesterday full-time director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, has been made redundant with immediate effect. Those of us with an interest in such arcane matters have long known that the Royal Institution is in financial difficulties, and Greenfield’s management of this once august body has been questionable, to say the least. But her dismissal – which she looks set to contest on grounds of gender discrimination – has come as a most pleasant surprise.
Now I have a deep loathing for egotists and shameless self-promoters, and Greenfield ticks both of these boxes. But the main problem I have with the noble peer concerns her relationship with a network of contrarian academics, media workers and public relations professionals formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party. Despite its professed support for free market ideas, and receipt of considerable amounts of corporate sponsorship, the cult follows a textbook revolutionary defeatist ideology.
The Royal Institution hosts a cult front organisation known as the Science Media Centre, to which Greenfield acted as “midwife” (her description). Linked to this is Sense about Science, which plays a prominent role in the current campaign to keep English libel law out of science. Greenfield is also an advisor to the Social Issues Research Centre, an Oxford-based corporate public relations outfit masquerading as a social science think tank.
Arguments about the malign influence of these political moonies in science communication have been going on for some time behind the scenes, and occasionally they bubble over into the public domain. While we shall have to take it on trust that Greenfield’s ejection from the Royal Institution is a result of financial pressures and the need for a management shakeup, you can safely assume that ideological battles have played a part, as have personality conflicts. It will be interesting to see what happens now to the Science Media Centre.