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Scientist Colin Blakemore Knighted

16 June 2014

Posted by: UAR news team

Category: Communications & media

scientist-colin-blakemore.jpgUAR is delighted that Colin Blakemore was awarded a knighthood in the Queens Birthday Honours. Sir Colin was recognized ‘for services to scientific research, policy and outreach’.

Sir Colin was instrumental in the creation of UAR. He chaired the councils of both the Research Defence Society and the Coalition for Medical Progress as they fused to become UAR and then chaired UAR’s council in its first year.

Sir Colin used animals in his research and defended animal research despite violence and threats by extremists to himself and his family. While his peers were intimidated by threats of violence in the 1980s and 1990s, Sir Colin continued to justify his work to journalists, politicians and anyone who would listen.

As a result, he endured regular, loud, abusive protests outside his house, smashed windows, letters laced with razor blades, parcel bombs, kidnap threats directed at his children, and physical assaults.

Sir Colin said:

‘Life has its ups and downs: this is definitely an up! Being a scientist is a delight, but also a privilege. The progress of science depends on the confidence of the public and politicians, and I’ve always believed that scientists have an obligation to share their excitement, their knowledge and also their concerns with the whole of society. Scientists must be prepared to engage in debate and dialogue, even on difficult and challenging issues, if we are to maintain the trust of society and the support of government. I’m especially pleased, then, that this honour has recognised my efforts to contribute to the dialogue between science and society. I hope that it will be seen as recognition for the efforts of all those scientists who devote time and energy to public communication.’

Sir Colin specialises in vision and how the brain continues to change even into adulthood. Throughout his academic career at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Warwick and London, Sir Colin has championed the communication of science to a wider audience.

In 1976, aged 32, he became the youngest person ever to deliver the BBC Reith Lectures – a series of six talks entitled ‘Mechanics of the Mind’. He has subsequently presented or contributed to hundreds of radio and television broadcasts.

A decade ago, Sir Colin, was head of the Medical Research Council, but was denied the normally automatic knighthood granted to those who serve in that position. According to a leaked government memo, he had been turned down because of his controversial work on vivisection.

Explaining why he refused to be silenced by animal rights extremists, Sir Colin said: ‘It was tough in those days. I was really in the eye of the storm. But giving in would have made that kind of campaign more effective.’

Many in the British scientific community responded enthusiastically to the news of Sir Colin's recognition.

Prof Roger Lemon, Sobell Chair of Neurophysiology, Institute of Neurology, UCL, said:

'Long, long deserved. A great tribute to a top scientist and a top advocate for the responsible use of animals in research.’

Prof David Nutt, The Edmond J Safra Chair and Head of the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, Division of Brain Sciences, Dept of Medicine, Imperial College London, said:

'From inspirational junior lecturer in Cambridge University, through Prof of Physiology at Oxford to restructuring the MRC as CEO, Colin has shown a unique ability to combine scientific rigour with innovation and intellectual honesty. The UK scientific community will welcome this long-overdue recognition.’

Prof Simon Wessely, President Elect of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Chair of Psychological Medicine and Vice Dean at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, said:

‘Most of us can remember very little of who taught us back when we were medical students in the dim and distant past. But there was one lecturer who filled the Cambridge lecture hall, even on the Saturday morning slot that he was given. So 40 years ago (although I am sure he will not thank me for saying that), Colin was the maestro of not just neuroscience, but also of science communication. This is a fitting tribute.’

Wendy Jarrett of Understanding Animal Research said:

‘Colin's achievements speak for themselves, but they are all the more remarkable when one considers that for many years he pursued his ground-breaking research under concerted attack from animal rights activists. The fact that he did not give in to their violence and threats, and indeed made a point of talking openly about the importance of animal research in medical progress, is testament to his strength of character. He has encouraged many more scientists to speak up about their research using animals, helping the public to understand why such research remains necessary in some circumstances.’

Sir Colin is currently the director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London, Professor of Neuroscience and Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London and Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience, University of Oxford.