23. March 2010 · Comments Off on Scotland Rules the Waves – er, no it doesn’t! · Categories: Common Good, Crown Estate, Environment, Land Reform, Research

Forgive me for continuing this thread on Scotland’s seabed but I’ve just caught sight of an interview on 16th March with Alex Salmond about Scotland’s marine renewables potential. Now I think that the progress made with marine renewables is very exciting but we’re not going to maximise the benefits of this industry if we don’t control our own seabed.

Alex Salmond claims that these announcements mean that “Scotland rules the waves” (0:26 min). He reminds us that his “claim that the Pentland Firth is the Saudi Arabia of tidal power is about to come to fruition” (2:47). And he goes on at some length about the benefits to local communities in the Highlands and Islands (2:54). This is all fine and dandy but why does the SNP Government not follow through the logic of its position and ensure that local communities around Scotland’s coasts control the seabed and foreshore and thus have a real stake in the development of this important industry? Why is such a valuable part of Scotland’s public land still under the control of a London based property company – the Crown Estate Commission?In the recent Independence White Paper, the Scottish Government point out that the governance of marine resources remains unsatisfactory. “Despite recent agreements the underlying fragmented nature of responsibilities does pose a risk to the successful management of marine issues, for example supporting the emerging wind and tidal energy industry in Scottish waters.” (White Paper para 5.9)In paragraph 5.15 the SNP government admits that, despite some minor changes in the relationship between the CEC and the Scottish parliament, “the more significant issue – that revenues collected from Scottish coastal businesses by the Crown Estate bring very little visible benefit to Scotland – would remain.”But Scotland’s seabed is public land under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament – it could do something about these issues tomorrow if it wished. Why won’t it?To add to my frustration with this whole story, the Scottish Government has today published a consultation paper on the geographic areas to be included in the next round of seabed leases that will qualify for the Saltire Prize. In it, it repeats the fiction that “The Crown Estate owns virtually the entire UK seabed” (pg 2). As my post of March 18th makes clear IT DOES NOT! Why is the Government continuing to parade this fiction?

13. March 2010 · Comments Off on Access to Academic publications paid for by our taxes · Categories: Freedom of Information, Research

I am a scientist by training. I believe that science holds out great promise for a better future. I believe all research dedicated to making the world a safer, healthier and more equitable place for us all to live is important. I therefore also believe that the public should be encouraged to get acquainted with the latest findings by researchers in science and the humanities. This is particularly important just now when the very nature of the scientific method and its relationship to public policy is under sustained attack as never before over the science of climate change.

When I read a newspaper article about the latest scientific findings in a field of interest I often want to get behind the headlines and read the actual research paper to read for myself what it’s all about. So I found myself recently reading about the findings of a major enquiry into the future of land use in the UK – the Foresight project.

I wanted to read the Evidence Reviews and noted the link to the Science Direct website where i found that I had to pay $39.95 for each of the 34 reviews – that’s around £1000 for the lot! I was taken aback and contacted the officials involved. They helpfully pointed out that I could actually download the papers directly from their wesbite. That was good to know but it was not immediately obvious as the paying link came before the free link. Anyway, it reminded me again of the concerns I’ve had for a long time that the public are denied access to publicly funded research. The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology looked at this whole issue in 2003-04 and their report is excellent. But nothing’s been done as far as I can see to implement its conclusions.

A day after my frustrations over the Foresight reports, the media was reporting new research from the Met Office showing that the evidence that humans are responsible for climate change is stronger now than it was two years ago. In the current fevered atmosphere of public debate on this topic, this is quite a claim to make. Again, I wanted to read for myself the actual report. So I went to the Met Office website and read about it  I followed the link to the report and found myself at Wiley Interscience and having to register and pay for the report. So I contacted the Met Office press people who apologised and said they were tying to get a link to work directly but meantime I had to register with Wiley to get it. I did this but found I still had to pay. That was on 8th March. Tonight (12 March), I went back to the same site and, lo and behold, I didn’t have to pay and the pdf downloaded fine. Thank you Met Office for your swift action. Here is the report.

Finally, another piece of work caught my attention – a report on upland land use. I followed the link and got a 4 page summary at the end of which I found another link to the project website and another link to the full report Future of the Uplands and we’re back at Science Direct and $39.95 for the paper!

I am currently writing book on land issues and am finding access to hundreds of academic articles that I want to consult blocked by academic publishers who want £20 a copy. This is outrageous. How is the public to be informed about important issues such as climate change if it has to pay for the privilege? Most of this research has been paid for out of public money. It should be available to all under a simple Creative Commons licence. Will this be an issue in the forthcoming General Election? Don’t hold your breath.