skip to content

This conference took place from 20-23 July 2011, in London and Cambridge. It's purpose was to identify and suggest solutions to various conditions that threaten the core mission of the modern research university and scientific and humanistic investigation. A copy of the programme is available to download, and a resource page from the various workshops is also available.


A workshop for a select group of about 30 prominent at representatives from various academic or scientific disciplines, including biology, cosmology, history, law, literature, medicine, philosophy, psychology , physics, and theology, as well as various invited observers including select members of the press. In addition, the conference will open with a public event featuring a panel discussion among prominent academics and scientists.


Opening public event at the British Academy in London, followed by workshop sessions at the University of Cambridge.


British Academy; Centre for Public Law, University of Cambridge; Mayo Clinic; Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University. In association with the Royal Society and the Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge.


1. The Useful University and "Impact"

The humanities especially, but also other subjects that have no immediate practical use, are facing a number of different threats, which the conference will disentangle and explore:

  • The move in the UK and elsewhere to shift the burden of paying for university education to the students, who will have to take out considerable loans, is expected to discourage applications for courses that do not offer marketable skills. Is this fear well-founded? What can be learnt from the experience of the US system, where fees, sometimes very high, have been the norm?
  • Government funding increasingly asks about the impact of proposed research outside the universities. What are the likely effects – will the move, for instance, just tend to favour bad (and in fact still non-practical) research at the expense of better research? What justification can specialists in the humanities give for public funding of pure research?
  • The prestige of science has encouraged many humanities specialists to copy their scientific colleagues in the way they go about and present their work. Government and charitable funding bodies often employ a model designed for the natural sciences (organized team- work, well-defined goals, a neat separation between teaching and research) in assessing grant applications in the humanities. Do these developments threaten the humanities, and, if so, what can be done?
  • Higher education in the UK has changed over 30 years from an élite to a mass system. How do subjects that have no immediate practical use fit the new conditions? Some argue for widespread access to the great achievements of human culture as the mark of a decent society (and perhaps as a prerequisite for a properly democratic one). Others hold that mass education must be in the main organized for practical ends, leaving just a small number of specialists in the useless disciplines. Is there a middle way between these views, and what can the UK learn from the experience of the US, where there has been a mass higher education system for far longer?

2. Libel Laws

The potential of libel laws to unduly restrain scientific commentary or academic criticism as recently manifest by British Chiropractic Association v Singh [2010] EWCA Civ 350, and whether such threats will be ameliorated by the proposed libel reform bill.

3. Data Protection

The potential of data protection to unduly interfere with academmic and scientific research

4. Contracts

The potential of contracts between drug companies and other entities sponsoring collaborative projects with a university and its researchers to unduly interfere with the timely dissemination of scientific information through provisions that delay publication of findings while the sponsor considers whether to file for a patent; or through contractual provisions that require submission of any article in advance of publication for the company to approve its contents; or through provisions that restrict researchers’ access to full data necessary for further research.

5. Freedom of Information

The use of politically or ideologically motivated freedom of information requests to harass academics and scientists or the potential of even well-motivated requests to interfere with scientific research.

6. (Mis)communication among Scientists and Policymakers

Problems arising from the different mindsets and needs of the two communities, including scientists thinking in terms of probability and policy makers thinking in binary terms. Herein also of Climategate.

7. Is Biomedical Research Over- or Under-Regulated?

Are regulations such as those that seek to prevent conflict of interests between researchers and drug companies, as well other well-intended measures such as Ethics Committees, unduly stymieing biomedical research and publication and delaying implementation of useful clinical interventions? Or, to the contrary, is there the need for even more regulation of this area of research in order to adequately protect individual and public welfare?

8. Ethics Committees as Applied to Social Science Research

The potential of Ethics Committees/Institutional Review Boards to unduly interfere with social science research.


  • Ross Anderson: Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge
  • Michael Banner: Theology, University of Cambridge
  • Eric Barendt: Law, University College London
  • John Bell: Law, University of Cambridge
  • Simon Blackburn: Philosophy, University of Cambridge
  • Jessica Bland: Policy Adviser, Science Policy Centre, the Royal Society
  • Nicholas Christenfeld: Psychology, University of California San Diego
  • Jonathan Cole: Sociology and former Provost, Columbia University
  • Stefan Collini: English Literature and Intellectual History, University of Cambridge
  • Michael Crow: President, Arizona State University
  • Charles Dellheim: Director of the Honors College and former Chair, Department of History, Boston University
  • David Erdos: Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford
  • Rafael Fonseca: Deputy Director, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center
  • Christopher Forsyth: Law, University of Cambridge
  • Maurice Frankel: Director, UK Campaign for Freedom of Information
  • Mathew Freeman: Group Leader, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
  • Ivan Hare: Barrister, Blackstone Chambers
  • David Healy: Psychological Medicine, Cardiff University
  • David Howarth: Law, Cambridge; former Member of UK Parliament
  • Kirsty Hughes: Law, University of Cambridge
  • Herbert Huppert: Theoretical Geophysics, University of Cambridge
  • Charles Kennel: Former Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and former Associate Director, NASA
  • Lawrence Krauss: Physics and Director, Origins Initiative, Arizona State University
  • John Marenbon: Philosophy, University of Cambridge
  • Alastair Mullis: Dean, University of East Anglia Law School
  • Edna Murphy: Executive Director, Research Services Medicine, Imperial College, London
  • Adrienne Page: Barrister, 5RB
  • Pauline Perry: House of Lords; former Chief Inspector of Schools and former President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
  • Robert Post: Dean, Yale Law School
  • George Poste: Chief Scientist, Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative, Arizona State University
  • Janet Radcliffe Richards: Philosophy, Oxford University and University College London
  • Martin Rees: Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge; immediate past- President, Royal Society; Master, Trinity College, Cambridge
  • Adam Roberts: President, British Academy
  • Andrew Scott: Law, London School of Economics
  • Simon Singh: Author
  • Michael Smyth: Consultant, Clifford Chance
  • Nicholas Tosh: Philosophy of Science, National University of Ireland, Galway
  • Chris Tyler: Executive Director, Centre for Science & Policy, University of Cambridge
  • James Weinstein: Law, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
  • James Wilsdon: Director, Science Policy Centre, Royal Society


  • Dave Bosworth: Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge
  • Joanna Cole: Literary Agent
  • Miranda Gomperts: MPP Development Director, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge
  • Sita Dinanauth: Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge