Tag Archives: science training for MPs

Thoughts about scientists speaking to Members of Parliament in Canada and elsewhere

It’s hard to tell from reading the Evidence document what precisely the hearing before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health was intended to address. The title for the hearing is general, Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology and it’s impossible to gauge how well informed the committee members in attendance are.

None of the advisors (for a list see yesterday’s posting) speaking to the committee gave a description or explained nanotechnology or used stories/examples to illustrate their points. Not offering an explanation was unusual. There seems to have been an assumption that all the committee members knew about it. If the committee members do understand nanotechnology, at least somewhat, they belong to a very small category of outsiders (not directly involved in nano research or nano product development or nano business effort or nano policy). My suspicion is that Canadian MPs don’t have easy access to much science information so this scenario is unlikely.

All this reminded me of Preston Manning’s (founder of the Reform Party and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance Party [now absorbed by the Conservative Party] in Canada and opposition science critic) comments about scientists needing to learn how to communicate better with politicians (Nov. 2, 2009 posting on this blog).

I suspect part of the difficulty is that speakers were given five minutes and they all had overriding issues they wanted to cover. The document has numerous instances where the Chair warns the speaker that their allotted speaking time is coming to an end and they will have to conclude their comments.

As for not offering examples or stories about the use of nanomaterials in nanotechnology-enabled products to illustrate their points, that’s a pretty simple and effective technique. Based on my reading of the document for the hearing, I better appreciate Preston Manning’s suggestion that Canadian scientists get better training to communicate with MPs.

The Black Hole, Devils of Details: Getting Scientists to Understand How Policy Making Works, June 16, 2010 is a posting where blogger Dave (a Canadian scientist currently doing postdoctoral work at Cambridge University, UK) details his experience at a recent meeting ,

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion at Cambridge run by a group called the Centre for Science and Policy. It is part of a series of events designed to engage and unite those at the University who have an interest in the role of scientific information in government policy. This particular session was entitled Working on the inside and highlighted the roles of Cambridge academics that have pursued these sorts of roles in Government.

The panelists all had some role in bringing a scientific perspective to the parliamentarians at Whitehall. These roles, however, were distinct and spanned multiple career stages, areas of focus, and included different sets of responsibilities.

These Cambridge academics weren’t being parachuted into a hearing for a five minute presentation with questions afterwards; they were folded into various agencies for the purpose of offering scientific advice to UK MPs.

Coincidentally I found this June 9, 2010 article (Dave Willets plugs science lessons for MPs) by Mark Henderson for The Times on the Canadian Science Policy website this morning. This is another approach they’re taking in the UK that could prove valuable here too,

One of *Afriyie’s best moves in opposition was to commit the Tories to giving new MPs some rudimentary training in science as part of their parliamentary induction. The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology agreed to do this training, so long as it was open to MPs of other parties as well. And the first such training day will take place next Tuesday [June 15, 2010].

* Prior to the 2010 UK elections, Adam Afrifie was Tory opposition Science spokesperson. Now the Tories are part of a coalition government, Dave Willets is the Minister in charge of science.

If anyone has comments that point to confirming or debunking my suspicions regarding Canadian MPs and their access to science information, please do let me know.