17 May 2006

Book worms need feeding

If you can afford to spend £250,000 a year for a bit of publicity, you might like to support the Science Book Awards run by the Royal Society. The RS has put out a press release explaining that the Aventis Foundation is pulling out after 16 or so with its hand on the wallet in one guise or another.

First sponsored by the Science Museum, corporate sponsorship started with Rhone Poulenc and moved to Aventis after one of those name changes that companies like to go through every now and then. In recent years, the Aventis Foundation has picked up the tab. The foundation is a charitable operation "established in 1996 as the Hoechst Foundation with an endowment of €50 million".

We have a spot spot for the prizes because the Science Museum set them up when we made a throwaway remark at the end of a meeting of the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science. But they have always been a bit of a disappointment, constantly returning to the same tired old subjects – life, the universe and everything – for winners. There was also a tendency to overlook science writers in favour of academics slumming it.

This year they manage to break one of these traditions by choosing what is, if memory serves us, the first prizewinner with a technological theme. We have to rely on memory because someone seems to have forgotten to pay the fee to renew the web site for the prizes.

At a rather nice dinner at the Royal Society on Tuesday, David Bodanis picked up the £10,000 prize for his book "Electric Universe - How Electricity Switched on the Modern World". On the day after the event The Guardian reported that Bodanis will give the cash to the family of the late government scientist David Kelly, quoting Bodanis as saying that he hoped his gesture would, "tell some people in England something about the importance of truth."

With luck this will not deter potential sponsors. One thing they could do would be to spend a bit less on employing expensive events organisers to lay on the bash. At least one staffer at the RS muttered about duplicating all of their kit resulting in a larger than necessary bill for the sponsor. But we would not want anyone to cut back on the dinner bill. The food and wine were rather nice for a mass event.

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