There’s an interesting post by scientist Emily Nurse about her experience shadowing British MP (member of Parliament), Gavin Barwell. From the Five things I learnt when shadowing an MP posting on The Guardian science blog, Life and Physics,
I was paired [as part of the Royal Societies Pairing Scheme programme] with Gavin Barwell, the new conservative MP for Croydon central. I applied for the scheme with the hope to educate myself about how political decisions about science are made, and to understand how us scientists can become more involved. The first part of the scheme consisted of a week in Westminster, two days of tours and talks about Science in government and parliament, then two days shadowing our respective pairs. The second part will involve reciprocal visits where the MPs/civil servants shadow their pairs for a day or two.
She notes five things she learned, I’m excerpting the three that I think are the most salient from a Canadian perspective,
1. There are a lot of scientific governmental and parliamentary bodies!
The ones we learnt about include: Chief Scientific Advisors Committee, Science Advisory Councils and Committees, Council for Science and Technology, Science and Engineering Advice in Emergencies (SAGE), Science and Engineering Assurance programme (SEA), Foresight Projects, Foresight Horizon scanning, the House of Commons and House of Lords Select Committees, House of Commons Library, The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)… etc! Wow… and, to be honest, I’m still very hazy on the subtle differences between them all.
2. The Science and Technology Select Committees really do look into how well government deals with scientific issues.
I sat in on one of their meetings dealing with an enquiry into “Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies” where they discussed how well prepared the government was in the volcanic ash crisis, whether decisions were evidence based, etc. See here for the transcript. What’s more, I learnt that it is possible for scientists to influence these enquiries by responding to calls for evidence or even making suggestions for enquiry topics. Good to know.
5. Some politicians really do see the value in science.
In the recent spending review the science budget was protected, in flat cash terms at least. It seems the government ring-fenced the budget in a realisation of the importance science plays in the economic growth of our country. I asked Gavin if politicians also valued the bigger picture too, science is not just about short-term economic gain but about advancing humanity on a global and very long term scale. Gavin certainly gets this, and I think some other politicians do too. During the week Gavin’s colleague Nicola Blackwood MP for Oxford West and Abingdon managed to secure a Westminster Hall debate on Science Research. A full transcript of the debate can be found here, in general it was extremely positive for science.
I thought points 2 and 5 helped me to better understand the importance of Preston Manning’s comment about scientists and politicians in Canada needing communicate more (noted in my June 24, 2010 posting), while point 1 had me somewhat envious that there are so many agencies that are designed for communication with politicians although there does seem to be confusing number of them.
I wonder if we’ll ever get the second half of the story, Barwell’s experience shadowing the scientist.