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British science champion quits post

London

A body charged with improving science communication in Britain is looking for new leadership after its illustrious chairperson resigned, complaining angrily about its lack of progress in meeting its goal.

Bridget Ogilvie: move stunned colleagues.

Bridget Ogilvie, former head of the Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical research charity, accused the Royal Society of blocking her attempts to turn the body, called Copus, into an umbrella organization for the various UK groups involved in science communication.

“To become an umbrella organization it has to be an organization where not one body dominates, but the Royal Society runs Copus and is not prepared to allow Copus to evolve,” Ogilvie said. “Frankly I've got better things to do with my time.” She announced her decision to surprised colleagues at the organization's spring council meeting on 17 May.

Formerly known as the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science, Copus was launched in 1985 by the Royal Society, the Royal Institution and the British Association. It was remodelled last year to include representatives from other organizations, including scientific societies, museums and the media, but effectively remains a branch of the Royal Society, which applies for government funds on its behalf and provides offices.

Ogilvie says she wanted Copus to evolve into a more democratic body in which member organizations are each able to exert roughly equal influence. But Stephen Cox, executive secretary of the Royal Society and a member of the Copus council, says that would not work because groups interested in science communication don't have the cash to support Copus in that way. “Currently we provide Copus with its home and infrastructure and as soon as you spin it off, all those costs have to be found from somewhere else,” he says.

Other Copus council members question the need for an 'umbrella' organization. “We're all too busy with our own agendas to stand around keeping the rain off each other,” says Jon Burch, executive secretary of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

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