Memorandum submitted by the Society for
The Society for General Microbiology (SGM) supports
the concept of Government funding of the Royal Society for specific
purposes, and believes that the Royal Society gives good value
for money in these activities. As the national academy of sciences
it is the appropriate channel for this funding.
SGM does not receive Government funding, but
supports its activities from membership subscriptions, publishing
and investment income. The Society regards its independence and
freedom to act in the best interests of the science of microbiology
and the community of microbiologists as of paramount importance.
SGM provides advice to Government, in the form
of evidence and opinions to inquiries and consultations, and nominates
experts to serve on committees. The Society makes great efforts
to communicate information about the importance of microbiology
in today's world to schools, the general public and opinion formers,
and devotes significant resources to these ends.
1. Background: microbiology is important
Microbiology is a dynamic and fast-moving subject.
Microorganisms affect our health, food and environment, and are
important in many industries.
In terms of health, new infectious agents such
as HIV, Ebola virus and BSE/vCJD continue to emerge. The development
of antibiotic resistance in existing pathogens is a continuing
and major concern. Microbes are becoming implicated in chronic
diseases such as duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer. Climate change
may cause some infectious diseases to extend their geographical
range. For example, TB and malaria are increasing their impact
alarmingly. There is a real threat from biological terrorism.
The Chief Medical Officer's new strategy on the control of infectious
diseases emphasises the need to strengthen microbiological services
including surveillance and diagnosis, and also the need for research
on the development and introduction of new vaccines. The recent
outbreak of foot and mouth disease emphasises the need to strengthen
veterinary microbiology in the UK.
The Government has identified the biotechnology
industry as of growing importance for our economic development.
Microbes of many types are essential tools in the development
of new prophylactic and therapeutic medicines, and may play an
increasing role in crop protection and cleaning up the environment.
The success of biotechnology depends on scientists with knowledge
of modern molecular biology and genetics, both of which have to
be underpinned by microbiological training.
2. The Society for General Microbiology (SGM)
The Society, founded in 1945, is the largest
microbiological society in Europe, with over 5,600 members. 75
per cent are resident in the UK; the remainder are in more than
60 other countries. Almost all full members are qualified to doctoral
or higher level, and there are 850 postgraduate student members.
A recently introduced category of corporate membership for schools
is growing rapidly. The Society provides a common meeting ground
for scientists working in academic centres and those in medicine
and health care, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals and numerous
other industries, agriculture, food and beverages, the environment
and education. The Society is a registered charity and a company
limited by guarantee; it employs 30 people. It is governed by
a Council drawn and elected from the membership.
The Society's objective is to advance the art
and science of microbiology. It does this by:
organising regular international
scientific meetings. The largest last 5-6 days and involve over
publishing four major international
learned journals: Microbiology, Journal of General Virology,
Journal of Medical Microbiology and International Journal of Systematic
and Evolutionary Microbiology, the SGM Symposium Series books,
and the award-winning magazine Microbiology Today;
representing and publicising the
science and profession of microbiology to government, the media,
the public and schools;
providing grants to support the career
development of young microbiologists, and projects in developing
3. Comments on Government funding of The
The Royal Society is not a "typical"
learned society, in that it has additional roles as the UK national
academy of science. This makes it an appropriate body to receive
Government funding; its prestige and the quality of the fellowship
guarantee the necessary independence of thought and action.
The activities funded by Government through
the Royal Society are a valuable component of the fabric of UK
science. Their nature makes it appropriate that they are funded
through the Royal Society rather than through other routes such
as the Research Councils. In particular:
The Royal Society fellowships for
UK and overseas scientists are important means of recognising,
recruiting and retaining talented individuals for UK science;
Royal Society interactions with the
national academies of science of other countries, and with the
International Council of Scientific Unions, provide a framework
for international interactions by other UK learned societies;
Royal Society support for international
conferences, and travel grants to attend them, are valuable to
we hold in high regard the Royal
Society's work in science communication and education, in research
into science education, and in briefings and one-off inquiries.
4. Government funding of other learned societies
SGM does not receive Government funding for
its core activities, and would only consider accepting it if the
independence of the Society was not compromised in any way. We
regard learned societies based on scientific disciplinessuch
as microbiology, endocrinology and pharmacologyas important
components of the intellectual and enterprise fabric of the country.
Learned societies are of value to society as a whole because they
are different. They represent professional communities with roots
in many types of organisations, and in coherent sectors of science,
but retain independence of Government, universities, Research
Councils and industry. As responsible but unconstrained independent
bodies, they can target their activities for maximum effect and
public value. This independence is particularly important for
emphasising the social, intellectual and economic importance of
the scientific discipline, in a time when we have seen the emergence
of a virulent culture of "antiscience" and public distrust.
The Society has adequate income from its membership
subscriptions, publishing business and investments, to support
its charitable and professional activities. Prudent management
has allowed the accumulation of sufficient reserves to sustain
these activities in the event of changes in economic or other
5. SGM provides advice to Government and
The Society submits evidence and opinion to
Select Committee and departmental inquiries and green papers etc.
We have recently increased support for such activities by the
appointment of a full time Public Affairs Administrator and a
Professional Affairs Officer on Council.
Where advice or opinion is required on more
generic issues affecting wider aspects of biology, or scientific
education, SGM co-operates with appropriate umbrella bodies such
as the UK Life Sciences Committee and Institute of Biology in
preparation of collective responses. But where the issue focuses
on microbiology, the Society will take a leading role and respond
directly, as this is the most efficient way of producing a quality
response. Where appropriate, there is consultation with other
learned societies within the discipline of microbiology.
SGM Council nominates individuals for membership
of expert committees, such as the Advisory Committee on Dangerous
Pathogens, and the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee.
The Society has a very broad knowledge of the microbiology community
in the UK, which together with its independence, makes it a good
source of quality and unbiased nominations.
6. SGM communicates science
SGM aims to communicate accurate information
about microbiology to all sectors of society through a wide range
of activities. We employ professional staff and allocate significant
funding to achieve this objective:
promotion of microbiology in schools
at Key Stages 1-3 and post-16 through the production of teaching
resources, INSET training, advice to teachers, pupils and technicians,
sponsorship of competitions, attendance at exhibitions for science
teachers and the organisation of lecture programmes for schools.
The Society offers Schools Corporate Membership and runs an educational
website www.microbiologyonline.org.uk. Grants are also available
to members wishing to organise education projects in schools.
We also collaborate widely with other bodies engaged in science
education and act as the secretariat for the Microbiology in Schools
communication of microbiology to
the general public is achieved by organising debates and lectures,
encouraging members to participate in a national database of speakers
on microbiology, and responding to enquiries by telephone, letter,
fax and e-mail. SGM regularly organises activities at National
Science Week, the Edinburgh Science Festival, other large events
and on behalf of the Royal Institution and the British Association;
promotion of careers in microbiology
through the wide distribution of leaflets, posters and factsheets,
attendance at careers fairs for schools and provision of a dedicated
website: www.biocareers.org.uk. A large number of enquiries is
dealt with annually at SGM headquarters. The Society collaborates
with other life science bodies in running one day careers conferences
for final year university and postgraduate students.
Microbiology in the News, a digest of current reports
in the media, is maintained on the SGM website www.sgm.ac.uk.
SGM issues regular media releases based on papers published in
its learned journals and delivered at its conferences, together
with occasional briefing notes on topical issues. Assistance is
also provided to broadcasters making documentaries and journalists
preparing review articles. SGM members are encouraged to undergo
media training. A register of experts who can give advice when
required is maintained.