Susan Greenfield

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Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE is a neuroscientist and Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University. She was awarded a CBE in 2000 [1] and was appointed as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords in 2001 - [2] one of Tony Blair's "people's peers". [3] Her research focuses on understanding brain functions and disorders, particularly Parkinson's, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Greenfield makes frequent TV and radio appearances, and has written popular science books and articles for the press. In 1998 she was awarded the Michael Faraday medal by the Royal Society for disseminating science to the public and in 1999 was elected to an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians.[4]

She has been described as "our most visible scientist and, with her RI appointment, one of the most influential."[5] That influence is felt at the highest levels. She has been part of a consultation with the Secretary of State for Industry on science funding. She has also given a consultative seminar to Tony Blair on the future of science in the UK and has reported, "Tony Blair is really into the meshing of private and public scientific research."[6] She has also submitted at Blair's request a memorandum for his consideration on Genetics, Science and Risks. She is also a Forum Fellow at the World Economic Conference at Davos.


Contents

Greenfield and the Royal Institution

From 1998 to 2010 Greenfield was Director of the Royal Institution (RI).[7] She was made redundant by the RI in January 2010 and reportedly within hours of the redundancy was locked out of her grace-and-favour flat in central London. She said that she would sue the RI for sex discrimination.[8] The decision to make Greenfield redundant was taken after a financial review revealed trouble with the RI's funding. Greenfield had been instrumental in the £22 million refurbishment of the institution's main lecture hall and the development of bars and catering facilities, Greenfield had famously wanted the RI to become the "Groucho Club for science" [9] Supporters of the Baroness argued that she had been badly treated by the institution who had used her as a scape goat to take the blame for their spiralling debts. [10] while others argued that the institution could no longer fund such an extensive role for its director and a revised offer of employment had been rejected by Greenfield. Reports claimed that the institution had no option but to make Greenfield redundant as her contract would have continued until her retirement, an outcome that the Royal Institution could not fund. [11] The deal finally struck between Greenfield's lawyers and the RI forbids either party from discussing the matter publicly. [12]

Career

  • Travelling scholarship to Israel 1970;
  • MRC resident scholarship Department of Pharmacology, Oxford, 1973-76;
  • Dame Catherine Fulford senior scholarship St Hugh's College 1974;
  • JH Burn Trust scholarship, Department of Pharmacology, Oxford, 1977;
  • MRC, Laboratory of Physiology, Oxford, 1977-81;
  • MRC-INSERM French Exchange fellow, College de France, Paris, 1979-80;
  • University of Oxford, junior resident fellow, Green College, 1981-84;
  • Tutorial fellow in medicine, Lincoln College, 1985;
  • Lecturer 1985;
  • Professor of pharmacology 1996-
  • Deputy director Squibb Projects 1988-95;
  • Gresham Chair of Physic Gresham College, London, 1995-98;
  • Director, Royal Institute of GB 1998-2010 [13]

Controlling how science stories are reported

Greenfield has been at the heart of efforts to control how controversial scientific issues, like GM crops and cloning, are communicated to the public - most notably, via the Science Media Centre (SMC), which she played the key role in founding, and via her work with the largely industry-backed Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), whom Greenfield advises.

She was pivotal in the SIRC and RI co-convening a Forum to lay down 'Guidelines on Science and Health Communication' - a code for the media and for scientists as to how science stories should be reported. Among the Forum's members were Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the UK Food Standards Agency, Lord Dick Taverne who went on to become the Chairman of Sense about Science, and Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, who is part of the Living Marxism network.

According to another member of that network, Tony Gilland, in an article for Spiked:

For Greenfield, the importance of such a code of conduct is clearly demonstrated by the frenzied media coverage generated by Arpad Pusztai's pronouncements on "poisonous" GM potatoes in February 1999.... One of the problems in this instance, says Greenfield, was the media spotlight "focusing on one maverick".[14]

The SMC developed out of the work of the Forum, with Greenfield seeing the need to go beyond guidelines and have an organisation that would engage pro-actively with the media. Lord Melvyn Bragg, President of both the Science Media Centre and the RI, made clear in a debate in the House of Lords that

this issue has an economic dimension which is of crucial importance to this country. Put bluntly, if ignorance stirred to hysteria by sensationalism were to get in the driving seat, thousands of highly skilled and remarkable opportunities for self-fulfilment, wealth creation and knowledge formation would be lost. The more we know, the more we can make of what we know. There is the sniff of the born-again Luddite in the air, and that could be destructive to our future as a trading country whose increasing wealth depends increasingly on its brains.[15]

Selling science's soul to private sector

Bragg's linking of commercial considerations with the role of the SMC would appear to sit happily with Greenfield's known views. She has frequently expressed her approval of the highly entrepreneurial character of contemporary science. She happily identifies herself as one of those accused of selling their souls to the private sector.[16]

Her attitude is best exemplified by her own research funding where she not only secured £20 million pounds from a pharmaceutical giant (the then Squibb Corporation) for her Oxford Department,[17] but has since co-founded her own privately funded firm, Synaptica, which aimed to become a leading neuroscience-based biotechnology company within five years. As of 2009 it had ceased trading.[18]

A 2001 PricewaterhouseCoopers report takes Synaptica as a model for how scientists can gain greater financial rewards out of their biotechnology research:

Last year, for example, The Sunday Times (January 30, 2000) reported that Dr Susan Greenfield, Director of the Royal Institution, had taken out a patent on a naturally occurring brain molecule which could hold the key to curing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Oxford University, where Dr Greenfield is also Professor of Pharmacology, has taken a 30% stake in Synaptica, the company Greenfield and her colleagues set up to research the peptide before selling the results to a pharmaceutical operation. This approach - like that in many biotechnology start-ups - clearly involves assuming a much bigger share of the risk/reward ratio than is normally the case in Pharma, yet the industry needs just such people. We predict that a growing number of companies will therefore adapt the model for themselves - and that the research scientists they employ will ultimately have a financial as well as a personal stake in the molecules they are studying.[19]

In one of her Millennium lectures, Professor Greenfield defined one of the key criteria for 'good science' as better industrial exploitation of 'the real practical advances that arise from research.' She complained that UK performance was only 'respectable without being spectacular' in this area. She measured this in terms of the number of patents being generated by UK science, concluding,' UK science needs to translate its strength into better industrial performance'.[20]

To achieve more efficient commercial exploitation of scientific research you need a supportive environment in terms of both political policies and public attitudes. According to journalist Peter Riddell:

This is allied to her belief in the need for more inter-changes between scientists and politicians and the media. In the end, it comes back to understanding the potential and opportunities of scientific research. So there is no contradiction between Professor Greenfield's role as a media star, as a distinguished scientist and as an entrepreneur. All three are linked.[21]

LM network

In order to forward her agenda Greenfield has shown a willingness to work with very diverse allies. On 9th May 2003 a London conference titled 'Panic attack: interrogating our obsession with risk' was held at the RI. It was advertised as being organised by Spiked with the RI and with the far right pro-technology group Tech Central Station.[22]

Michael Fitzpatrick and Bill Durodie were among the multiple contributors to the event who were part of the Living Marxism network. Peter Marsh, director of the Greenfield-advised SIRC was another contributor and the SIRC was named as a sponsor, as was the far-right International Policy Network.[23]

This is not the only time that Greenfield has actively cooperated with the Living Marxism network, whose members eulogise science and technology and want no restrictions on cloning or genetic engineering. In summer 2000 Greenfield was the co-convenor with Tony Gilland and Helene Guldberg, two prominent members of that network, of Interrogating the Precautionary Principle. This event was organised by the Institute of Ideas and held at the Royal Institution.

It is in this context that the long involvement in the Living Marxism network of Fiona Fox, the director of the Science Media Centre - an organisation which Greenfield says the RI served as "midwife",[24] needs to be seen.

It is not just Greenfield's dubious alliances that are open to question. Jon Turney, who teaches science communication in the department of science and technology studies at University College London, describes Greenfield's attitude to communicating science as "dangerous and unhelpful".[25]

Turney writes:

if large numbers of people fail to achieve some ideal of scientific literacy this may be because they have got the message that they have no real purchase on scientific decision making, not because they are incapable of mastering technicalities.[26]

Greenfield's outlook may have been affected by her marriage (until 2003) to Peter Atkins, the SmithKline Beecham Fellow and Tutor in Physical Chemistry at Oxford. Atkins has been described by the writer and journalist Bryan Appleyard in an article about the science establishment's "attack dogs ... fired by the ideology of scientism", as "AlScientism's most crazed ideologue" (punning on Al Qaida).[27]

Controversial Claims

Social Networking In 2009 Susan Greenfield told the House of Lords that social networking websites pose several risks including, "infantilising the mid-21st century mind", shortening attention spans, sensationalism, an inability to empathise, and could undermine an individual's sense of identity. [28] Greenfield does have some supporters who feel that she is right to raise these questions. However, it is important to remember that what Greenfield is claims here remain questions without the scientific evidence to support her claims. Ben Goldacre has been a critic of Greenfield's claims on this issue:

"It is my view that Professor Greenfield has been abusing her position as a professor, and head of the Royal Institution, for many years :now, using these roles to give weight to her speculations and prejudices in a way that is entirely inappropriate. We are all free to have :fanciful ideas. Professor Greenfield’s stated aim, however, is to improve the public’s understanding of science, and yet repeatedly she :appears in the media making wild headline-grabbing claims, without evidence, all the while telling us repeatedly that she is a scientist. :By doing this, the head of the RI grossly misrepresents what it is that scientists do, and indeed the whole notion of what it means to :have empirical evidence for a claim. It makes me quite sad, when the public’s understanding of science is in such a terrible state, that :this is one of our most prominent and well funded champions." [29]

In 2011 Ben Goldacre again questioned the scientific basis for claims made by Greenfield that computer games could cause dementia in children. Writing in The Guardian, Goldacre also points out that Greenfield had also linked rising rates of autism with internet use, before challenges form another Oxford professor and autism charities. After at least five years of making many claims in relation to the impact of the internet and gaming on the brain Greenfield has yet to produce a scientific paper on any of these claims. Goldacre's challenge to Greenfield is simple and should be uncontroversial, "If you have a serious new claim to make, it should go through scientific publication and peer review before you present it to the media" [30]

Endorsing Commercial Products The Baroness launched her own line in computer games that she claims are good for the brain.[31] The MindFit game, which cost £89.99 on release is licensed by MindWeavers, Greenfield is a director of the company which is a collaboration between Oxford University and the makers CogniFit, based in Israel. Greenfield claimed that although "It is not a guarantee against getting Alzheimer's...MindFit is proven to work in scientific trials". [32]. However, when the games were investigated by Which ? the consumer magazine they were sent three studies by MindWeavers none of which were published in reputable scientific journals and two of the studies had "basic design flaws" [33] Dr Adrian Owen, a professor of neuroscience was one of the experts consulted by Which? He found that two of the studies had no control group making any improvement in brain performance impossible to find and to distinguish from any form of regular computer use. [34] Given Greenfield's concerns for the harm caused by the use of the computer games in children and of social networking this endorsement seems contradictory. The third unpublished study was less problematic, it suggested that MindFit's product may compare more favourably to similar products. However, it did not support the claim that MindFit had advantages for the brain over playing other computer games like tetris, contrary to claims reported upon the launch of the product.[35]. The claim that MindFit was a "cognitively challenging" and therefore activity protects against Alzheimer’s remains doubtful. Chris Bird another Which? reviewer said even if that was true, it was unlikely brain-training would be more effective than doing crosswords or joining a book club. [36]

Affiliations, Awards and Grants

Publications

Books

  • Susan Greenfield, The Private Life of the Brain (Penguin Press Science, London 2000) (ISBN-13: 978- 0-141-000720-5; ISBN-10: 978- 0-141-000720-6)
  • Susan Greenfield, The Human Brain: A Guided Tour (Phoenix: Science Masters, London 1998) (ISBN: 0 75380 155 8)
  • Susan Greenfield, ID: The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century: The Quest for Meaning in the 21st Century (Sceptre, London 2007) (ISBN: 978 0 340 93601 6)
  • Susan Greenfield, Tomorrow's People: How 21st-Century Technology is Changing the Way We Think and Feel (Penguin, London 2004) (ISBN: 0-141-00888-1)
  • Susan Greenfield, Brain Story: Why Do We Think and Feel as We Do? (BBC Publications, London, 1995) (ISBN-10: 0563551089; ISBN-13: 978-0563551089)
  • Susan Greenfield, Journey to the Centers of the Mind: Toward a Science of Consciousness (W. H. Freeman & Co, Publishers, London 1995) (ISBN-10: 0716727234; ISBN-13: 978-0716727231)

Notes

  1. Social Issues Research Centre, About SIRC; Susan Greenfield accessed 25th October 2011
  2. House of Lords, House of Lords Appointments Commission: Appointments 19th September 2011, accessed 25th October 2011
  3. Tim Radford, Profile: Susan Greenfield The Guardian, 30th April 2004, accessed 25th October 2011
  4. Baroness Susan Greenfield, University of Oxford Dept of Pharmacology website, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  5. From Rosen to Ivester, The Guardian, 24 Oct 1999, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  6. Science gets a designer label, Daily Telegraph, 4 May 2000, version placed in web archive 13 Jun 2007, accessed in web archive 28 Sept 2009
  7. Robin McKie and Rajeev Syal, Top scientist Susan Greenfield told to quit her job – and her flat, The Guardian, 10 Jan 2010, acc 27 Apr 2010
  8. Robin McKie and Rajeev Syal, Top scientist Susan Greenfield told to quit her job – and her flat, The Guardian, 10 Jan 2010, acc 27 Apr 2010
  9. Caroline Gammell and Richard Alleyne, Baroness Greenfield's redundancy 'only way to get rid of her' The Telegraph, 12th January 2010, accessed 25th October 2011
  10. Robin McKie and Rajeev Syal, Top scientist Susan Greenfield told to quit her job – and her flat, The Guardian, 10 Jan 2010, accessed 25th October 2011
  11. Caroline Gammell and Richard Alleyne, Baroness Greenfield's redundancy 'only way to get rid of her' The Telegraph, 12th January 2010, accessed 25th October 2011
  12. Sophie Goodchild, Susan Greenfield: I laugh in the face of bullies London Evening Standard 9th August 2010, accessed 25th October 2011
  13. Tim Radford, Profile: Susan Greenfield The Guardian, 30th April 2004, accessed 25th October 2011
  14. Tony Gilland, Greenfield cites, Spiked, 8 Mar 2001, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  15. Hansard 16 Feb 2001: Column 444, UK Parliament website, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  16. Susan Greenfield, Grant us the right to experiment, The Independent, 23 June 1996, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  17. Susan Greenfield, Grant us the right to experiment, The Independent, 23 June 1996, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  18. Synaptica Ltd., Isis Innovation website, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  19. The Future of Pharma HR, Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2001, p. 8
  20. Susan Greenfield, quoted by Peter Riddell in Science and business: Interview with Prof Susan Greenfield, FirstMagazine.com, version placed in web archive 16 Aug 2003, accessed in web archive 28 Sept 2009
  21. Peter Riddell, Science and business: Interview with Prof Susan Greenfield, FirstMagazine.com, version placed in web archive 16 Aug 2003, accessed in web archive 28 Sept 2009
  22. Helene Guldberg, Panic Attack conference report, version placed in web archive 5 Dec 2006, accessed in web archive 28 Sept 2009
  23. Helene Guldberg, Panic Attack conference report, version placed in web archive 5 Dec 2006, accessed in web archive 28 Sept 2009
  24. Consultation Report, Science Media Centre, March 2002, p. 13, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  25. Jon Turney, How Greenfield got it wrong, The Guardian, 17 Apr 2003, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  26. Jon Turney, How Greenfield got it wrong, The Guardian, 17 Apr 2003, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  27. Brian Appleyard, Mugged by the science mafia, Sunday Times, November 30, 2003, accessed 28 Sept 2009
  28. Patrick Wintour, Facebook and Bebo risk 'infantilising' the human mind The Guardian, 24th February 2009, accessed 25th October 2011
  29. David DiSalvo, Four Authors Respond to the Social Networking Controversy Neuronnarritive, 12th March 2009, accessed 25th October 2011
  30. Ben Goldacre, Serious claims belong in a serious scientific paper The Guardian, 21st October 2011, accessed 22nd October 2011
  31. Ben Goldacre, Susan Greenfield: Why won't she publish her theory? Secondary Blog, 8th January 2010, accessed 25th October 2011
  32. Roger Highfield, Top neuroscientist backs computer brain game The Telegraph, 7th September 2007, accessed 25th October 2011
  33. Which?, Brain training Mindfit Which?, 25th February 2009, accessed 25th October 2011
  34. Which?, Brain training Mindfit Which?, 25th February 2009, accessed 25th October 2011
  35. Roger Highfield, Top neuroscientist backs computer brain game The Telegraph, 7th September 2007, accessed 25th October 2011
  36. Chris Bird, Brain training Mindfit Which?, 25th February 2009, accessed 25th October 2011
  37. HealthWatch HealthWatch, accessed 7 March 2011
  38. Charity Commission, Mentor Foundation UK Trustee's Report and Accounts for year end 31st March 2010 accessed 7th October 2011
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 39.4 Institute for the Future of the Mind, People: Susan Greenfield accessed 25th October 2011
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