Julie Maxton (Scotland, 1955) has devoted her career to studying, practicing and teaching law in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. For that work he has received the recognition of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). But her career also stands out for having placed her at the head of the administration in some of the most respected British institutions. In 2006 he held the office of to register at the University of Oxford, becoming the first woman to have headed that secretariat since it was created half a millennium ago.
"People came into my office to ask me to see Dr. Maxton. I told them 'now he's coming, I'm going in his search'. Then he left the room and came back in, "joked Maxton from the stage of the Reader's House in Madrid, where he participated last week in a debate on the role of women in science organized by the British Embassy in Spain. Maxton is not a scientist, but since 2011 he heads the administration of the Royal Society, the British Academy of Sciences. It is one of the oldest scientific societies in the world: it was founded in 1660, and since then only men have held the position of executive director. Until she arrived.
Question. The most important scientific office of the Royal Society, that of president, remains a man. Is it chance?
Women can only be part of the Royal Society since 1945
Answer. One of the reasons is that to be president of the Royal Society you must have received some serious recognition in a field of science; Many presidents have won a Nobel Prize. Do not forget that women can only be part of the Royal Society since 1945. It is changing, and now partners value scientific recognition based on broader criteria, for example other awards. I believe that in the near future we will see a woman president.
P. Although the girls choose scientific careers, very few arrive at positions of responsibility in the world of research.
R. Almost all scientific organizations, and the Royal Society is no exception, are aware of this problem. However, although I believe that there are many girls who have an interest in science, it is also true that many do not see science as an attractive option for work. In that sense, the responsibility begins at home, before ten years, for example with the toys that we give away.
P. Is the example of a scientific institution like the Royal Society less important than daily gestures to close the gender gap?
Because of its tradition and eminence, it has the responsibility to act as a reference for change
R. I believe that the final result depends on a set of factors. The Royal Society comprises less than 1,500 scientists, it is a small organization and in practice what it can do is limited. However, because of its tradition and eminence, it has the responsibility to act as a reference for change. But I say, it is a tapestry of factors, for example the pressures of parents and school. Even what you see on television: quite a few people start law school because they see attractive series of lawyers on television, but there is no equivalent in science.
P. Did you study law by a television reference?
R. My father took me to Old Bailey [Tribunal Penal de Inglaterra y Gales] When I was 11 years old, and I liked it a lot. I do not want to say that I knew what I was going to do from the age of 11, but it made a lasting impression on me. During my academic career, I have done a lot of administrative work and, a few years ago, suggested that I go to the interview to work as executive director of the Royal Society. When I was offered the position I asked: "Are you sure? I'm not a scientist. " The answer was: "We already have enough scientists around here."
P. The Royal Society is more than 350 years old. How does it remain relevant in today's scientific and social landscape?
We do not have gender quotas: you have to enter on your own merits
R. First, by following the thread of this event, we want the Royal Society to reflect the scientific community to which we aspire, or we will always be the outdated. To avoid discrimination, we train scientists on unconscious biases and have nomination initiatives for scientific merit. We do not have gender quotas: you have to enter on your own merits, that is key for the Royal Society. Our main activities are to provide independent scientific advice to politicians, publish our ten scientific journals, fund research projects and make publicity and citizen participation. Now we also have an interesting science and law project, where we talk to magistrates about the importance of having robust science in the courts.
P. Conservative British MP Michael Gove said in an interview about Brexit 2016 that "people in this country [Reino Unido] she's fed up with experts. " How should a scientific advisory body When at least part of your audience rejects the advice?
If people want to see the evidence that has formed the decision of an expert, it seems reasonable
R. To answer, I will finish the quotation marks. What Gove really said is: "People in this country are fed up with experts [...] who say they know what is best ". I think that nuance is important. With that nuance, the scientific advice on natural gas could be "This is the scientific evidence about natural gas, and this is what you have to do about natural gas: digging all of Scotland", or something like that. I think he meant that experts should limit themselves to what they can contribute as experts. In this world of fake news, I think it is important that there are organizations with the mission to highlight the facts above all. The motto of the Royal Society is Nullius in verba, which can be translated as "do not trust the word of another" or "look for evidence". Everything we do requires a basis of evidence, and if people want to see the evidence that has formed the decision of an expert, it seems reasonable. The times of "trust me, I am a ..." have passed.
P. What is the Royal Society doing to protect British and European science against the possibility of a Brexit without agreement?
R. Well, the first thing is that we have had tremendous support from our European colleagues, who have written to the Brexit negotiators to emphasize the importance of staying close to British science. For us, the most important thing is for the government to see that, if there is no free movement, at least there must be a labor relocation program that facilitates the movement of scientists, technicians and their families. We should be able to attract and retain the best. With regard to funding, we are aware that the European Research Council (ERC) and the Marie Skłodowska Curie scholarships benefit us greatly. If there is no agreement, de facto We lose 500 million pounds for not participating in these programs. The government has not confirmed whether it will supply that money, but the research academies are debating possibilities.
P. Even before the European Union, the United Kingdom has always been a benchmark for scientific research. Could I still be alone?
We do not pretend that all the people that contribute to the United Kingdom being a scientific reference are British: they are not
R. This will depend on two aspects: first, what mobility program will be adopted, and second, what type of funding will be available. The United Kingdom is a reference for scientific research, but do not pretend that all the people who contribute to this are British: they are not. Finally, even if the mobility program is reasonable and there is funding, scientists have to want to come to the UK after what happened. We have the work ahead to repair our international relations.
P. Why do you think the United Kingdom stands out in its scientific production?
R. There are many factors. One is the research culture: it offers good mentoring and funding to young researchers. It attracts the best and those who are going to be the best; With such a solid base a virtuous circle begins. In addition, it is a transparent democratic society that funds research out of curiosity, not everything must be with a practical purpose in mind. I think that scientists like that freedom to follow the path that interests them the most. There are also diverse sources of financing that form a good ecosystem: if one does not pay for your research, you can try again with another one.
P. You publish since 1665 the first scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which laid the foundations of the peer review. It is still a paid magazine. Does not this contradict your goal of approaching science to the public?
We are different from the commercial publishers
R. You're right. There is a European review of the publication model; the debate is being Plan S [whichheproposestopublishin[queproponepublicarenopen access, or free, research funded with public money]. There are conflicting opinions about it, I think we are all on a journey towards the magic formula of scientific publication. We are totally open to discuss it, but it is a transition process. On the other hand, we are different from the commercial publishers because all the benefits of our journals are invested in the mission of the Royal Society, for example to pay activities of citizen participation in science.
P. What is your "mission" for the Royal Society?
R. Promote, support and recognize excellence in science, wherever you are, whether recognizing the best scientists as partners or awarding research grants. That is our constant. Furthermore, I want our international relations to be such that the Royal Society can continue to work with scientists from all over the world, regardless of the political dynamics of the moment. I think it is very important that science be seen as a diplomatic tool.