Science and the New Parliament

Representatives of the BES attended yesterday’s Science and the New Parliament at the House of Commons, which boasted an impressive array of speakers from the political community and learned societies.

John Bercow MP set the tone for the morning’s speeches, referring to the link between parliament and the scientific and engineering community as “absolutely indispensable”. He continued to say that science is key for economic success, but that we should also enjoy the science conducted “for the sake of discovery,” a point later emphasised by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell in a well-received speech.

David Garner, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, continued by highlighting that the solution for many of the world’s growing problems will come from Science and Engineering. He also identified the importance of science teaching and maintaining investment for science, two sentiments later echoed by other speakers.

The speeches then took a different tack, with Malcolm Wicks MP stressing the need to articulate the central role science plays in shaping policy, and that public knowledge of what science has to offer must be improved. He did, however, inject a cautionary note, saying that although scientists and policy makers must make strides to work closer together, science must understand that “there can never really be some simple linear relationship between scientific knowledge and policy action. Other things intervene,” he continued, such as history and public opinion, which are “not entirely irrational forces.”

The chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Andrew Miller, then continued by highlighting two major issues he believes the committee will be focussing on; maintaining science investment in the economic climate, and seeking to improve how we as a society see and use science. David Willetts, the newly appoint Minister of State for Universities and Science, continued on the theme of future priorities, saying that one of his own was to look at how libel affects scientific debate, as it was unacceptable that scientists giving empirical data could be subject to libel.

Following several quips about the Labour leadership debate, Ed Miliband urged scientists to be “out there more”, as public debate will do better with [scientists’] voice at the heard of it. Julian Hubbert, MP for Cambridge, then labeled the coverage of the climate change scandal at UEA a “deliberate attempt to undermine the role of academics” in public debate, and insisted that there are not enough politicians with a scientific background in parliament.

The morning’s speeches were concluded by Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, who warned that the right kind of scepticism should not always be viewed as inappropriate. He concluded by emphasising that collaboration, both between scientists, and scientists and politicians, is key to the future of the country.

All of the days speeches can be viewed here.