Click images for more details



Recent comments
Recent posts

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace
« A well cooked survey - Josh 218 | Main | Lew taken down »

Soviet-style democracy in Carlton House Terrace

I have been doing some digging into the Royal Society's election procedures. This was prompted a tweet from James Wilsdon that not all of the elections to posts at the society were held under such an absurd system as that used for Royal fellows.

The society's standing orders are here and these indeed show that there are different procedures for electing fellows, foreign members and royal fellows. However, as far as I can tell the procedures for other elections to the fellowship are actually worse than those used for royals. (The standing orders are somewhat unclear, so it is possible that my interpretation is wrong - second opinions are welcome).

Anyone can make a nomination for election to the fellowship, but after that the procedure is taken over by the Council of the society. The fellows receive the names of all those nominated but, as you will see, they have little further involvement in the process.

The next step is for the nominations to be considered by the council and the chairmen of the sectional committees - one for each of the main branches of science: maths, chemistry, physics and so on. The sectional committees are themselves appointed by the council, and the committee chairmen are appointed in the same way. I think it's fair to say then that the sectional committees are the tool of the Council.

The Council then seems to go away and draw up a list of 44 candidates for the fellowship and 8 for foreign membership. These are then presented to the fellows for a ballot. As far as I can tell, the names of the candidates chosen by the Council are not circulated to the fellowship, but only to those attending the meeting in person. (This is not the case for elections of Royal fellows, where all fellows receive a ballot paper.)

The ballot papers are processed as follows:

...each Fellow present and voting shall of the ballot lists... having deleted the name of any candidate or candidates for whom the Fellow does not vote, and, if the Fellow shall think fit, having substituted the name of any other candidate or candidates contained in the list [they received at the start of the process].

So while fellows can nominate people for the fellowship, only those favoured by the Council will actually appear on the ballot. The chances of anyone not favoured by the Council making it to the ballot are therefore vanishingly slight. I would imagine the chances of anyone not favoured by the council actually being elected are precisely nil.

Interestingly, the process for foreign members is different, not using a ballot paper, but instead using a show of hands. So while we can say that Erlich's candidacy was favoured by Nurse and his friends on the Council, we will never know what the fellows thought about it. They may not even have been aware that he was one of the lucky eight favoured by the Council until after he had been successfully elected.

That said, I think we can see how it is possible for control to be maintained over the society's membership.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments (27)

So, in these days of 'equal opportunity', just how much public money is being paid to this stitched up quangoid politburosaurus?

I think we should be told.

May 6, 2013 at 10:05 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Question: what about turfing someone out? Is there a procedure? Has it ever been employed?

May 6, 2013 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Would be interesting to know the history of those rules, and if the Council's powers have been expanded or diminished over the centuries.

May 6, 2013 at 10:20 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Say no.

The Royal Society gets £48 million from the UK govt.

May 6, 2013 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAcc

Everything above board at Carlton House terrace and about as credible and legitimate as the Muir Russell inquiry.

May 6, 2013 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

This type of voting seems to have been learnt from the EU.

May 6, 2013 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

There is often a problem with any society that a small group with a common agenda, a will to succeed and who cooperate closely can take over very easily - often by just turning up to meetings. Add a thorough knowledge of the rules enabling them to baffle and bore the casual attender and the determination to freeze out anyone not toeing the line and a handful of people can apparently speak for thousands.
Even if someone not in the inner circle tries to rally support against the inner circle it's often too late. The stranglehold on the budget, official posts and communication channels means that it's almost impossible for the broad membership, at least in the short term, to oust the inner circle.

This is true of a society with even the most reasonable democratic rules, but the Royal Society seems to have the most undemocratic rules outside of a dictatorship.

Although most of the fuss visible to the general public is about the relatively trivial royal appointee squabble it may at least help to devalue the spurious "all the major scientific institutions believe in CAGW" argument.

May 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

Why is Andrew putting his reputation at risk by associating with all these "scientists"?

May 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme


The Royal Society Of London For Improving Natural Knowledge aka The Royal Society had an income of nearly £71m in 2012 and assets totalling £250m.

On average they employed 138 people and spent over £7m on salaries. One lucky person received over £330,000 in salary (I think it might have been Dr Andrew Mackintosh and included back payment of a bonus) and the next closest earned over £180k.

In total 13 people (or just under 10% of their staff) earned over £60k.

The £71m income is broken down as follows:

£49m Government grants
£4.6m Other grants
£9.1m Trading (Publishing, etc)
£4m Investments
£5m Contributions and donations.

May 6, 2013 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

That Royal Society ballot paper is begging to be photoshopped.

May 6, 2013 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered Commenterredc

May 6, 2013 at 11:25 AM artwest

Called 'entryism'. Practiced most successfully by the Far (and I mean way-out) Left (e.g. Militant Tendency & the various Communist Parties in/of Great Britain). Puts the RS in select company.

May 6, 2013 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterEvil Denier

Yes redc I see no reason why the good citizens of the UK should not print off copies and make a manuscript amendment by inserting the words 'do not' between the words 'I' and 'support' and then sending it to David Silverthorne.

May 6, 2013 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

As far as I can tell the digital image of the ballot paper came from David Colquhoun - pdf here - and was only retweeted by Leake, who failed to h/t the UCL Professor of Pharmacology and FRS. That matters because David already has a excellent record on the openness of science, however much some might want to challenge his politics and apparent disdain for the royal family.

I've been thinking back much to that debate on openness convened by Index on Censorship at Imperial College in December 2011, which Josh and I attended, with Colquhoun sitting beside Mark Walport, now the government's chief scientific officer, and giving the guy a hard time in a good-natured way. Such sparring seemed vibrant and healthy compared to the blandness of the Kremlinesque communication we'd all become used to. My hunch being that both may have a role to play in bringing about something far better than the soviet-style regime of the past.

May 6, 2013 at 12:10 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

The passing of Giulio Andreotti reminds me of a favourite quote from Margaret Thatcher, discussing this staunch supporter not just of European integration but of ever closer union with the Mafia:

"Power is a disease one has no desire to be cured of," he once said. Andreotti's irony evidently made a poor impression on Margaret Thatcher, who wrote, "He seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun."

Sorry for the interrupt. I'm sure there's a connection with Soviet-style democracy at the RS and even the rise of UKIP if one tries hard enough :)

May 6, 2013 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

18/03/2013 - A new Science and Advisory Council for Europe emerges:I wonder how many of the usual supects will be on it?

"The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has announced the creation of a Science and Technology Advisory Council.

President Barroso said: "Science and innovation are key drivers for European competitiveness, economic growth and the creation of new jobs. This Advisory Council will focus on science and technology related topics that are of cross-cutting nature, with a clear societal dimension. It will identify the issues of value where science, research and innovation can contribute to support future development in Europe".

The creation of the Advisory Council follows the President's appointment of Professor Anne Glover as the European Commission's first Chief Scientific Adviser in January 2012, aiming at ensuring more evidence-based European Union policy-making, but also at promoting the uptake of science & technology in society, including a better transfer of knowledge from the scientific world to industry."

"With the creation of this Advisory Council, and other key proposals to support the development of research & innovation, such as the Innovation Union, the European Research Area and Horizon 2020, President Barroso added another building block to pursue the goal of delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth for Europe."


May 6, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDennisA

It is not only soviet-style democracy:

The Iranian Guardian Council of the Constitution is charged with interpreting the Constitution of Iran, supervising elections of, and approving of candidates to, the Assembly of Experts, the President and the Majlis [the Iranian Parliament], and "ensuring ... the compatibility of the legislation passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly [i.e. Majlis] ... with the criteria of Islam and the Constitution", i.e., as the watchdog of the constitution it can veto any law passed by the Majlis.

May 6, 2013 at 2:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndré van Delft

"So while fellows can nominate people for the fellowship, only those favoured by the Council will actually appear on the ballot."

In 1963 Council passed the resolution:
"That it be placed on record that it is undesirable for Officers during the period of their service to sign certificates of candidates for the Fellowship."

Currently the Officers are:
Sir Paul Nurse FRS (President)
Professor Anthony Cheetham FRS (Treasurer and Vice-President)
Professor John Pethica FRS (Physical Secretary and Vice-President)
Dame Jean Thomas DBE FRS (Biological Secretary and Vice-President)
Professor Martyn Poliakoff FRS (Foreign Secretary and Vice-President)

I don't know if this resolution was subsequently revoked, but it does suggest that some effort was made to prevent an inner circle from exercising too much influence on fellowships.

May 6, 2013 at 2:56 PM | Registered CommenterQ

Corruption in a corrupt society is the norm not the exception.

May 6, 2013 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Voting ballot from 10 April 1938.

"Referendum and Großdeutscher Reichstag; Ballot;
Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938 and do you vote for the party of our leader; Adolf Hitler?; Yes; No"

At least that ballot paper had a small room to vote "no"

May 6, 2013 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndré van Delft

Yes, Adolf in 1938 was well ahead of Nursie in 2013. But I'm sure we live and learn.

May 6, 2013 at 3:29 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

"Soviet-style democracy" is showing your age.

Oppa Pyongyang style.

May 6, 2013 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterredc

Update on May 6, 2013 by Bishop Hill
Pielke Jr notes the similarity to FIFA's ballot papers.

And FIFA is the epitome of a transparent organisation...

May 6, 2013 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

Paul Nurse is of course on the Grantham Advisory Board, so must be getting lots of good advice from other Fellows, such as Lord Rees, Sir Brian Hoskins, Sir Peter Knight, Sir Keith O'Nions, (funny way to spell onions), or he could get advice from Bob Ward, or even John Schellnhuber. No end of options for him and all willing to instruct GWPF in climate ways no doubt.:

May 6, 2013 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterDennisA

I feel that we should view the Royal Society in its historical context. At the time that it was established it would have been entirely dependent upon the patronage of the royals and the aristocracy. Originally, scientific enquiry had no practical applications and hence no way of paying its way. Since then we have had the industrial revolution, the Royal Society must deserve some credit for making that happen.

I suspect that their voting system was set up long before democracy became common, so at the time would have been seen as being incredibly enlightened. It is an odd thing about human affairs that it often takes some kind of crisis to cause everyone to take stock and realise that a particular practice is ludicrously out of date.

May 6, 2013 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

This seems a holdover from the <I>ancien regime of RS President Martin “If you’d have asked me is it worth accepting a 1 in 3 or even 1 in 6 chance of destroying Western civilization, if the alternative was certain takeover of western Europe by the Soviet Union I would not have thought the risk was worthwhile “ Rees

CF Science Podcast *

May 6, 2013 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

A view from the other side of the pond . . . admitting a prince to the Royal Society seems de rigueur. Fussing about some silly ballots is so plebian.

May 7, 2013 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

Many thanks to André van Delft for pointing out the structural resemblance of the Sharia constitution and the comment policy at WUWT.

May 7, 2013 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>