Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/11/royal_institute_greenfield/

NuLab's fave boffin claims phallocentric conspiracy

Baronness Greenfield discovered to be redundant

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Science, 11th January 2010 16:24 GMT

New Labour's favourite boffin has lost her job - for a very New Labour reason - and has responded with a classically New Labour riposte.

Oxford neuroscientist Susan Greenfield was made redundant from her post as the Director of the Royal Institution after failing to balance the books. The full-time post itself is being abolished. In return, the Life Peer and WiReD magazine UK star is the suing the science charity for sex discrimination.

Greenfield's £22m refurbishment of the Institution's HQ saw it go into the red by £3m, and it had to sell property to balance the books. The refurbishment saw a new cafe bar and restaurant open at Albemarle Street.

The RI (or Ri as it prefers) was founded in 1799, and its Christmas Lectures introduced generations of schoolchildren to science. Greenfield was appointed Director in 1999 and made a life peer in 2001, as one of Tony Blair's "People's Peers" in 2001. Her gender and willingness to offer an opinion made her a high profile choice - she was the Observer newspaper's "Woman of the Year" in 2001.

But was Greenfield the best advertisement for science? You have to wonder, given some of her judgements. One of her first choices of Christmas Lecturer was Captain Cyborg, Kevin Warwick, in 2000.

Meanwhile, Greenfield showed a doggedly deterministic view of humans. Our brains would become irretrievably warped by using social networking websites and Twitter, she said this year. While she once described the urban poor as little more than crude, sensate animals:

"If you're trapped on a sink estate and you don't even know the capital of France because you've been excluded from school, you're stuck in a literal world where all your stimulation comes from your sensations… So is it surprising that you will eat strong, greasy, salty food to stimulate the tastebuds? Or kick down doors, or take drugs? The only way you can drive your brain is by grabbing strong sensations."

That's a good approximation of how New Labour likes to think of the urban poor: irredeemable, menacing, and ripe for a bureaucratic 'behaviour change' programme. You can hear the ghost of Eugenics whistling through that paragraph; the 'remedy' may be different now, but the view of the Morlocks hasn't changed much since Wells' day.

Here's Eric Laithwaite's famously controversial 1974 Christmas lecture on gyroscopes - just because we can:

Cracking stuff. ®

Bootnote You can still buy the Greenfield-endorsed MindFit CDs at £88 a pop.