A week in Molecular Evolution, HHU

Great thanks for such hospitality and generosity to Bill Martin and his colleagues at the Institute of Molecular Evolution, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf. Bill is an outstanding scientist and has others in his superb institute. I particularly appreciated illuminating conversations with Sven Gould and Sriram Garg, as with fellow speakers Louis Tielens (Utrecht) and Dave Speijer (Amsterdam) at the mini-symposium on November 30th.

I also also thank Nicolas Smelling, whom I have not met, but who generously tweeted accurate summaries of my main points at the mini-symposium and a research seminar on December 1st.

Tweets: Popper; Mitochondria; CoRR

On Twitter: Sven Gould, Sriram Garg, Nicolas Schelling, John F. Allen.

A hashtag: #corrhypothesis

Academic Independence

“Established by Royal Charter; accountable to Parliament”.

In a modern British University a Professor can be sacked for failing blindly to obey persons with neither interest in, nor understanding of, research and teaching, and whose primary objective seems to be to waste one’s time. These self-styled “managers”, unelected and unaccountable, may, of course, have ulterior motives.

Academic Freedom is under threat from the UK’s Higher Education and Research Bill. Academic Freedom has already disappeared within some UK universities. Academic Freedom has high priority in Statutes and Ordinances, which read as if a legacy from more enlightened times. In practice “management instructions” now have higher priority, and over-ride informed individual judgment. Management Instructions are enforced by “Human Resources” who thus breach their own Codes of Practice. Management Instructions are upheld by application in Employment Law. Academic Freedom is not.

With freedom comes independence. It will be helpful if we seek to be clear that what matters most is Academic Independence. The self-styled managers who destroy lives and careers also obstruct fields of enquiry – closing off lines of progress within the institutions under their control.

Independence of an academy or university is vital for the same reason that it is vital for a judiciary. Academic Independence distinguishes one’s teaching from salesmanship, and one’s research from propaganda. It is the name of the game.

Without Academic Independence, what is left of a university?

The Higher Education and Research Bill in a Nutshell
The Convention for Higher Education

What do universities actually do?
A comment on Academic Freedom and the Corporate University

The Higher Education and Research Bill – what is it for?
The Managerial University: A Failed Experiment?

Queen Mary: nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition – The Lancet
A salute to whistleblowers | Peter Cameron’s Blog

Dicky Clymo | Valedictory Lecture

The life and afterlife of bog-moss: why it matters – Professor Emeritus R.S. (‘Dicky’) Clymo

Wednesday 12th October 2016

This was a superb lecture; informative, stimulating, and entertaining. Dicky had put much thought into it. No-one could have gone away disappointed. Everyone in the packed audience will have learned something, and been given cause to think.

Enhancing photosynthesis | Royal Society Discussion Meeting

Enhancing photosynthesis in crop plants: targets for improvement

October 10 and 11, 2016.

Contributors presented interesting new findings, approaches and techniques, while the outlook and prospect of “enhancing photosynthesis” seems not to have changed significantly over many years. Crop plants rely totally on the same photosynthetic mechanisms as those used by all plants, and some bacteria. I like the idea of tinkering with these machines to see what might be done. Totally unexpected results, rather than targets, will be the most useful. Important discoveries and new possibilities always arise from a problem in understanding, and from thinking of ways to solve it. There were definitely some important problems, good ideas, and experimental tests freely reported at the meeting. Some were very good indeed. I shall comment on these. It was unfortunate that the meeting opened with an unscheduled ten minutes intelligible only to those already aware of some sort of bid for funding, thus excluding most of those present.  I was happy to be in the majority on this.

There is progress – resting always on the possibility of ideas being open to examination and criticism.

The 13th International Colloquium on Endocytobiology and Symbiosis, Kyoto

The 13th International Colloquium on Endocytobiology and Symbiosis was held in Kyoto from September 10 to 14, 2016. A fine poster advertised the colloquium.

The organiser was Junichi Obokata of Kyoto Prefectoral University. My painstakingly generous local host was Mitsumasa Hanaoka of Chiba University. I am so grateful to them both, as to the colloquium staff and fellow participants.

At Mitsumasa’s invitation I gave a seminar in his laboratory in Chiba, immediately after getting off the train from Narita airport on 8 September, and a longer and better version on 9 September at Kyoto University. Both seminars were entitled Mitochondria, ageing and separate sexes, and elicited excellent questions.

My plenary lecture at the colloquium itself was an account of progress with a consistent theme over a number of years and in different laboratories, countries, and universities, including recent results published in 2016. This lecture was entitled Why chloroplasts and mitochondria retain their own genomes and genetic systems: Co-location for Redox Regulation of gene expression.

The full programme of the Colloquium is available, and includes abstracts.