Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

Royal Institution Shoots Itself in the Foot


Royal Institution shoots itself in the foot

May 21, 2013 by  | Leave a comment

I had been working up to a further post on the death of Herschel and it’s eventual long goodbye as it drifts away from the Earth in its new graveyard orbit. But I have yet to pull the details together from ESA press releases etc.

Instead, and rather differently, we have a ‘how are the mighty fallen’ post about the Royal Institution’s idiotic attempt to trademark the term Christmas Lecture.

This has been covered in blogs elsewhere, but I thought I should add my name to the chorus of criticism.

The RI and their Christmas Lectures are a part of my childhood. I even went along to a few in addition to watching them on TV. In those days they were broadcast on the BBC and were a season of 6 lectures. Things have shrunk rather since then with, IIRC, last year’s series just being 3 lectures broadcast on BBC4.

At the same time the RI has gone through a financial crisis. It is now emerging from this, something I for one was happy to see, but it’s attempt to trademark Christmas Lecture, official statement here, now leaves me wondering whether the place was worth saving.

I hope this is a momentary aberration, to be abandoned, along with those who suggested such a hugely damaging move, as a response to the inevitable barrage of complaint. I’m not even sure that they can trademark the term, since it is in widespread use across the world.

If it turns out that they can trademark it, then there will be a large number of Lectures At Christmas in 7 months. I may even contribute my own RI Scrooge Lecture if anybody asks me.

There’s also the issue of reputational infection since one of the current leading lights of the RI is Sir Richard Sykes, once Rector of Imperial College, and this idiotic move might reflect back on us at Imperial.

My own contribution to what will hopefully be a very worrying set of messages at the RI today is appended below:


Dear Olympia,

When the news of the RI’s financial problems arose last year I was saddened. I was once an RI junior associate and once a member. I have attended and enjoyed both the RI Christmas Lectures and Friday Evening Discourses. I have even taken part in an arts/science exhibit there. I considered, in light of your financial problems last year, rejoining, but never got round to it, things in academia being as busy as they are.

I am now so glad I didn’t.

To park your tanks on the generic term Christmas Lectures in an attempted trademark grab is unconscionable. Many colleagues around the country and around the world give Christmas Lectures. They benefit science and society. And you now want to stop them using that term.

This is a huge public relations error. You will lose far more support than the little benefit you gain. I understand you have problems, but this is not the way to get over them.

Take the shotgun away from your foot before you do yourselves more damage. Admit to this utterly tone deaf error, and apologise to all those who have loved your lectures before you tarnish your brand completely, and people start giving RI Scrooge Lectures this december.

Yours, appalled,

Dr DL Clements, Imperial College London

Author: davecl

Astronomy, science, science fiction

3 thoughts on “Royal Institution Shoots Itself in the Foot

  1. Pingback: An Apology: The Royal Institution | In the Dark

  2. Pingback: Yuletide Disquisitions?? Come on! | Quantum Tunnel

  3. Pingback: Royal Institution: A Christmas ‘Christmas Lectures’ Update | Disturbing the Universe

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