It's not a union - perhaps it's a pressure group - but it may prove to be more like a professional body for the whole of science. That's the Science Council launched on Friday 16 June by the UK Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, at the Royal Society in London.
"The Royal Society is an academy of self-elected fellows. An élite. But we shall stand for all scientists" Dr Jack Gow, the first Executive Secretary of the Science Council, told BioMed Central.
So far the Council has persuaded twelve professional institutions and societies to join, (see below) of which the largest is the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) with some 46 000 members, followed by the Institute of Physics (IoP) with 26 000. In total the twelve institutions represent around 100 000 scientists, many of them industry-based. Gow (a past Chief Executive of the RSC) and the first President of the Council, Sir Gareth Roberts (who is also President of the IoP), hope that eventually most scientific societies and professional bodies will join the Council, broadening its representation and extending its range of expertise.
At the launch the UK Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury, said he believed the Council "will enable professional scientists to speak with one voice, and as such it will have a vital role to play, not only in explaining science, but also in understanding and responding to society's concerns about its use... The British public are basically pro-science, but the need to engage with public concerns grows ever more important".
One of Dr Gow's main objectives will be to develop a chartered status for scientists, a "CSci" qualification. "The days of discrete disciplines are gone" said Gow. "And it's too easy for anyone to stand up and claim to be a scientist and for the media to say 'a scientist says...', whether it's a lab assistant or a Nobel Prize winner ." And then he wants to make a mark on issues involving science and society, he said, working especially with the Royal Society's COPUS (Committee for the Public Understanding of Science).
However, so far the executive arm of the Council is tiny, matching its current funding for activities - based on a membership formula - of only £10 000. It aims to extend its capabilities by seconding staff and scientists from its member institutions for special projects.
Current membership of the Science Council is:
Institute of Biology, The Royal Society of Chemistry, Association of Clinical Biochemists, Institute of Food Science and Technology, Geological Society, Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, Institute of Physics, Institution of Environmental Sciences, The Association of Clinical Microbiologists, Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, and the Institute of Professional Soil Scientists.
The Council does not yet have a WWW address, but see the links to related bodies below.