Revolutionising Scholarly Activity across the Nation

Article excerpt


ON November 28, 1660, a group of scientists came together in London to hear the young Christopher Wren give a lecture on astronomy.

In the discussion that followed, a collective decision was made to form what became the cradle of scientific thought and discovery in the United Kingdom, namely the Royal Society. Since then, similar societies have been set up in Scotland (the Royal Society of Edinburgh) and in Ireland (the Royal Irish Academy) which were formed to bring together the best scientists in both nations for the advancement and recognition of learning, as well as the promotion of excellence in scholarship and research.

Yet despite the fact thatWales produced world leadership in areas of science and technology that provided the foundation for the industrial revolution, there has never been a national academy in Wales. Indeed, this nation has been alone in the developed world as having no academy of scholars to support its academic, intellectual and civic life.

The absence of such an organisation has meant that the people, politicians, policymakers and businesses ofWales did not have access to well-researched, scholarly and objective advice on issues of key importance in the way that those in other countries do.

Fortunately, that is no longer the case and last month, the Learned Society of Wales was launched in Cardiff.

With 60 founding fellows, presided over by the redoubtable Sir John Cadogan, former head of the UK Research Councils, it is an organisation whose potential contribution to the Welsh nation could be immeasurable, especially as the absence of a learned society in Wales has reflected badly on the country's intellectual image.

It hopes to open a library, publish a journal, award research funding and even conduct research in its own right in areas that are of direct interest to Wales.

The creation of the Learned Society ofWales could not have come at more opportune time. Certainly, in its absence, the Welsh Assembly Government has taken more than 10 years to decide upon a chief scientist. Would it have prevaricated over the appointment of a post to guide science and technology, which is de rigueur in every other modern democratic institution, if the Society had been active? As its first president noted at the launch, the Learned Society is not only a radical initiator of beneficial outcomes but also a force for inhibiting damaging decisions based only on belief. Indeed, Sir John Cadogan recognised that while the Society's advice might well be ignored, at least its opinions will be there for all to see.

However, probably the most important aspect of the new body is to celebrate, recognise, safeguard and encourage excellence in every one of the scholarly disciplines and in the professions, industry and commerce, the arts and public service.

Only when this is achieved, as Sir John noted in his own inimitable style, will Wales come to widely be seen, justifiably as a "small but clever" country, rather than as a political soundbite. …