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News in brief

Science select committee inquiries

Homeopathic assessment

MPs are to conduct an inquiry into homeopathy to assess the Government's policy on the issue, including the funding of homeopathy under the National Health Service and its policy for licensing homeopathic products. The decision by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee follows a written explanation from the Government in which it told the select committee that the licensing regime was not formulated on the basis of scientific evidence. "The three elements of the licensing regime (for homeopathic products) probably lie outside the scope of the ... select committee inquiry, because government consideration of scientific evidence was not the basis for their establishment," the note said. The inquiry is seeking written evidence and will also conduct oral sessions. The select committee will also conduct an inquiry into the Government's policy on literacy interventions for schoolchildren with reading difficulties.

See: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/science_technology.cfm[QQ]

Libel case

Singh wins leave to appeal

A British science writer who is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has won the right to appeal against a preliminary ruling in the case. A court ruling last week granted Simon Singh the right to appeal on the "meaning" of the article he wrote, where he described some chiropractic treatments as "bogus" and said the BCA "happily promotes" them. A previous judge had said the article in effect accused the BCA of deliberate dishonesty in promoting the treatments, which Dr Singh has maintained was not his intention and would be hard to defend. Speaking after the judgment, Dr Singh said it was the "best possible result" but warned that he would try not to get his hopes up. "We have only won leave to appeal. Now we must convince the Court of Appeal on the issue of meaning. There is a long battle ahead." The case has prompted a publicity campaign to "keep libel laws out of science".

Grant applications

Staff want feedback on failed bids

Some university staff consider writing research grant applications to be an incomprehensible "art" that is all the more difficult to grasp because feedback on their unsuccessful bids often lacks detail. That is the finding of a study commissioned by the Million+ group to examine why its universities have had varying success in winning funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee. Among things cited as barriers to success were lack of institutional expertise in writing bids, lack of resources and a requirement for excessive detail in some bids, according to the report, From Inputs to Impact: A Study of the Impact of Jisc Funding on Million+ Universities. But the study concludes that, for those that do win funding, long-term university-wide changes can be achieved with relatively modest sums of money.

Correction

In a news item last week, "Ministers first, academics second" (22 October), we said that academics had reacted angrily to an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council document related to its campaign to "improve" the economic and social impact of the research it funds. The document in fact referred to the EPSRC's separate campaign to "demonstrate" the impact of its research.

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