A visit to the Royal Society in the United Kingdom with the objective to understand the daily operations of the country’s first learned society was carried out by ASM Bureau of International Affairs Executive, Ms Nurhanani Zainuddin on 18 February 2019.
In addition, the meeting also discussed on matters pertaining to Fellowship and the Governance, Communication and Publications as well as the Royal Society’s Open Science Initiative.
Upon arriving at the Royal Society, Ms Nurhanani was welcomed by Laura Wilton, the Head of International Affairs (Europe and Asia), Bill Hartnett, Director of Communications and Natalie Cresswell, Policy Adviser, International Affairs (Americas and International Organisations).
The Royal Society started with the very first ‘learned society’ meeting on 28 November 1660, followed by a lecture at Gresham College by Christopher Wren. Then, it was joined by other leading polymaths including Robert Boyle and John Wilkins.
The group soon received royal approval, and from 1663 it started to be known as ‘The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’.
“Nullius in verba” is the motto of the Royal Society, meaning “take nobody’s word for it”. It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.
Fellowship and the Governance
The Act under which the Royal Society operates is called The Royal Society’s Charter.
The Supplemental Charter of 2012 was approved by Her Majesty, The Queen and now serves as the Society’s governing document. The Charter retained the feel of the Royal Charters of the 1660s but updated them to take account of developments in governance and administration.
The Royal Society’s Membership Department is called the Fellowship Department. The department is anchored by a Fellowship Manager whose main task is to oversee all matters related to the Royal Society’s Fellows.
On issues related to Governance and Community Management, the manager reports directly to the CEO and is responsible for the election programme for the Society’s Fellowship and Foreign Membership. The manager works with the President and Vice Presidents on drafting an election policy that is in line with the Society’s Statutes and Standing Orders.
In addition, the team is also responsible in devising, developing and maintaining online systems relating to the Fellowship, such as the Society’s online Fellowship Elections System, Council Election System, Committee Volunteer System, Year Book Editing System and Fellows Profile Editing System.
The Society also offers an annual MP Pairing scheme, where it pairs scientists with members of Parliament, providing the Society an opportunity to build its network.
Each year, 30 research scientists are paired with UK parliamentarians and civil servants, where they will some time in Westminster and the researcher’s institution to learn about each other’s nature of work.
The annual scheme starts off with a “Week in Westminster” where the scientists take part in workshops, listen to various invited speakers, as well as spend two days shadowing their counterpart within the course of a week.
The Society leverages on its good relationship with the Science and Technology Select Committee both in House of Commons and House of Lords to land messages with them or pushing inquiries to be done by the select committees; at the same time; they are also feeding information on existing inquiries.
The Society tries to keep their President, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, to focus on vital issues such as Brexit, while speaking in Parliament. If the topic at hand is more technical in nature, the Society will enlist an expert on the topic, or the chair of the working group.
Aside from Brexit, the Society is also focused on the topic of education. The Society is currently running a campaign to engage in education and to broaden the system as well as its curriculum.
The UK Government possesses a Council for Science and Technology (CST) that advises the Prime Minister on science and technology policy issues, which cut across the responsibilities of government departments. The council is supported by a secretariat based in the Government Office for Science.
The Society’s President sits on the Council Board, which is co-chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Advisor and an independent chair. The council has 19 further independent members.
The council meets 4 times a year: in March, June, September and December.
In the UK, all government departments have their own scientific advisors, most of which are the Society’s Fellows.
The Chief Scientific Advisor is responsible for coordinating all of the activities of all other scientific advisors in each department.
There is no specific ministry for science in the UK; science sits in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The Society always monitors what’s happening in the Parliament and observe where their work is relevant to continue the discussion on scientific issues.
Communication & Publication
The Royal Society has set up different teams to manage its corporate and science communications.
The Marketing and Public Engagement Team runs all planned events, including high profile ones.
The Communication Team comprises a digital sub-unit that runs the Society’s website and social networks, and a Media Relations sub-unit that manages press- and media-related tasks.
Additionally, there is also a Public Affairs Team that engages with politicians, civil servants, as well as prepares a newsletter for scientists and subscribers from the general public.
The Design Team oversees all that is encompassed under the Society’s brand. This team is also responsible for the editing and layout of the Society’s publications.
The creation of a report usually involves the policy team as well as the Society’s Fellows; the process varies according to the nature of the working group and how actively the Fellows want to be involved. External researchers may also be enlisted at times.
To create a report, Fellows will gather and discuss on a topic until a draft is produced. The draft then goes through multiple levels of approval and sign-off: the working group, followed by the Council and then the Science Policy Expert Advisory Committee. Only after all levels have approved will the draft go to the Design Team for “packaging”.
A big responsibility of the Science Policy team is to work closely with government department throughout the development of a report. The team will keep them informed of its progress, so the report remains familiar to the government department.
Depending on the topic, the Society will organise a launching event for the report, which will invite all main policy makers and provide them with a copy of the report. The produced report will also be available for digital download, which its download count can be tracked.
According to the Society, if the report is aimed at changing or shaping policies, the team will usually produce a more concise report that delivers its message front and centre. This short and sweet approach comes in handy for MPs to be used during debates at the Parliament.
Open Science Initiative
The Royal Society is committed to advancing science through the support of open data. It is a condition of publication that all raw data to support the conclusions made in the paper are deposited in a public repository or available to readers in the supplementary material.
Royal Society Open Science is a new open journal that publishes high-quality original research across the entire range of science on the basis of objective peer-review.
The journal covers the entire range of science and mathematics, and allows the Society to publish all the high-quality work it receives without the usual restrictions on scope, length or impact.
It is a condition of publication that authors make available the data, code and research materials supporting the results in the article.
This allow others to verify and build on the work published in Royal Society journals.
Datasets and code should be deposited in an appropriate, recognised, publicly available repository. If there are no existing data-specific repository, authors should deposit their datasets in a general repository such as Dryad or Figshare.
To encourage best practice in data sharing, Biology Letters, Proceedings B and Royal Society Open Science all have Dryad data deposition integrated into the journal submission system.
For all its science journals, the Society will cover the cost of depositing up to 20GB of data with Dryad. In addition, the Society deposit all supplementary material into the Figshare repository on the author’s behalf.
Exceptions to the sharing of data, code and materials may be granted at the discretion of the editor, especially for sensitive information such as human subject data or the location of endangered species.
In addition, authors must disclose upon submission of the manuscript any restrictions on the availability of data, code and research materials.
The Society has also suggested for ASM to look into Plan S – EU Commission initiative.