Tag Archives: New Parliament

Whitehall reorganisation may spell trouble for science

CaSE has registered its deep concern over changes to how science and engineering is represented within the Whitehall department responsible for them, the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS).

Currently, Prof Adrian Smith FRS is the Director General for Science and Research (DGSR) at BIS. As well as being a pivotal figure in the Spending Review process that saw the science budget spared deep cuts, he leads the process by which the budget will be allocated to different areas of science. He is one of a line of DGSR-equivalents who have been appointed from outside the civil service and who have brought an understanding of (and credibility in) the science and research sector to the role.

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Vince Cable Versus the World on Science

Earlier today the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, gave a speech on science funding, in which he warned of considerable government spending cuts and urged the scientific community to achieve “more with less”. CaSE has compiled a comparison of Cable’s comments with those of current world leaders, below.

Dr Vince Cable, President of the UK Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Business – September 2010

“How do we economise without damaging science? What reforms are needed to help us achieve more with less?

Barack Obama, President of the United States – April 2009

“At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities.  I fundamentally disagree.  Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.”

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany – April 2010

“During my term as Federal Chancellor, the Federal Government has repeatedly declared that the prosperity of a country such as Germany, with its scarce mineral resources, must be sought through investment in research, education and science, and this to a disproportionate degree.”

Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France  – June 2010

“Science is, I am well aware, a fragile enterprise and scientists must be defended against obscurantism, fanaticism, wilful ignorance and contempt for the truth. The economic downturn should not prompt us to postpone investment in science, but rather to bring it forward and consolidate it.”

Dr Manmohan Singh,  President of India – January 2010

“If India has to emerge as a knowledge power in the 21st century, then it can only be through a strong capability in science and technology”

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Scientific Expertise on the S&T Committee

Last week saw the announcement of the eleven new members of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. The new chair of the Committee, Andrew Miller, blogged for CaSE on what he sees as the major challenges facing the committee.

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Science & Technology in the new House of Commons

Andrew Miller MP is the newly elected Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee

I am delighted to have been elected as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee. I am sure readers will be interested to know that I was a member of Save British Science, and remain a member of CaSE.

I started my working life in the department of Geology in what is now Portsmouth University where I developed the XRD and XRF facilities. Much has changed since then – not least the way in which modern computing has radically improved the output of the lab. But the one constant (apart from Bragg’s law which was pretty fundamental to this work!) is the pressure on the science budget which I will touch on later.

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Labour leadership election; Scientists for Labour put their questions

Paul Connell is the Secretary of Scientists for Labour (SfL)

‘Scientists for Labour’ (SfL) is pleased to unveil the questions we’ll be formally asking the five Labour leadership candidates. They are:

1.      How can science, technology, engineering and mathematics contribute to economic growth in the face of current constraints on government spending?

2.      How will you bring expert scientific advice into Labour policy-making and the shadow cabinet, now that the party is in opposition?

3.      How will you promote the continuation of infrastructure regeneration in universities, schools and colleges to ensure that we inspire and train the scientists of the future?

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Early science and mathematics education: getting the basics right

Nick von Behr is the Education Policy Manager for the Royal Society.

The state of primary and early secondary science and maths education

We have a misleading picture of the health of teaching and learning of science and mathematics in schools. That is the conclusion of today’s Royal Society report on the state of primary and early secondary science and mathematics education in the UK.

While attainment trends generally indicate improvement over the past decade or so, research shows that teachers often lack the knowledge and skills required to teach science and mathematics well. Only 5% of primary teachers have a significant science or maths background. This problem, which is compounded by reliance on ‘teaching to the test’, may well be responsible for so many children being ‘switched off’ these subjects.

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Science in Parliament – the new landscape

Martin Griffiths is an adviser at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

Science had a higher profile than ever in the run-up to the election, thanks to #scivote, the series of debates between Lord Drayson, Adam Afriyie and Evan Harris, and the launch of the Science Party. But in the immediate aftermath, the outlook for science in Parliament seemed gloomy.

None of the three science spokesmen retained their brief, with Harris even losing his seat, and long-time advocates like Brian Iddon, Doug Naysmith, Phil Willis and Ian Taylor all retiring. But there are still around 70 MPs with a STEM degree, including some interesting new faces, and we’re now getting an idea of who the main players in science in this Parliament will be.

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Science, the New Parliament & the Budget

Science and the New Parliament preceded (and slightly overlapped with) the budget today. It was organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) with the support of many other organisations, including CaSE.

Speakers came from across science and engineering to discuss the importance of working together with parliament and government to develop public policy. Imran Khan, CaSE Director, outlined CaSE’s current priorities and spoke of the need to work positively to engage and support incoming MPs.

A range of government and parliamentary speakers contributed their thoughts, including John Bercow, Speaker of the House, who opened the proceedings, Mark Lancaster, longtime supporter of the RSC’s work, Malcolm Wicks, former science minister, and Professor Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA).

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Interview with the Science Minister

The new Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts has given an interview to Mark Henderson of the Times, ahead of the Cheltenham Science Festival, on the importance of independent scientific advice in government. You can view the Times’ article here, as well as an extended version of the interview on Mark’s blog.

In the interview Willetts underlines his support for evidence-based policy making in Government and has pressed for ministers to respect independent advice. “To convey the seriousness of what we are doing and its credibility, it is really important where possible we do pilot, evaluate, publish evidence, have it tested,” he said. “We must also have sufficient confidence that when evidence starts coming in that something is not working, to be willing to change.”

Following discussions with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, John Beddington, principles that give expert advisers the right to disagree publicly with government policy have been incorporated into the code of practice for ministers, and will be published shortly. Speaking about the principles, Willetts said “It was important because the scientific community placed value on it, and that’s true, but it’s even more important because we all have an interest in good decision-taking.”

Willetts also spoke about the wider uses of the scientific method; ” I personally think that as society has become more diverse, with a greater range of religious and cultural traditions, evidence-based arguments drawing on scientific method are one of the most important ways we have of reaching common conclusions because it’s a universal.”

CaSE Director Imran Khan cautiously welcomed his comments, saying “Evidence-based policy-making isn’t just a philosophical approach; it’s a pragmatic one too, especially when money is tight. So it’s a great statement of Government intent for a senior minister to be advocating pilot schemes and evaluation of evidence wherever possible. CaSE will be asking Government to use exactly this approach if they change funding for research and development; any shifts in support need to be evidence-based and properly evaluated.”

“It’s also a welcome and vital step that the relationship between scientists and ministers has been codified. But there will still be concern that requirements for the nebulous quality of ‘mutual trust’ give politicians a carte blanche to unfairly dismiss their advisers.”

In the interview, Willetts also registered his support for next Tuesday’s science induction session for new MPs , run by the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST), which he hopes will help develop an interest in science among the new intake of MPs.

The Science Minister will be taking part in a Science Question Time event tomorrow (Thursday 11th June) at 5pm, which Mark Henderson will also be taking part in.

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First Coalition Cuts: Universities take a hit

George Osborne introduced the first round of £6.24 billion of coalition cuts today, identifying many areas of “waste” and “low value spending”. David Laws was left to fill out the detail of the cuts. Many of the cuts clearly go beyond natural wastage and into areas with serious implications for future economic growth. It would be extremely helpful to have a clearer rationale for why certain areas were targeted.

CaSE will be following up on the announcements, outlined below, to understand the detail better. We will also be working hard to make sure that science and engineering, teaching, research and innovation are defended from the next series of announcements in the budget on June 22nd.

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Programme for Government: Good vision, but where’s the plan?

The coalition government has published more details of its plans in Our Programme for government this morning. It does not add much to the initial coalition agreement with respect to science and engineering policies. It certainly lacks many policies that might be expected from looking at the pre-election promises from each of the parties. The introduction states:

we both want to build a new economy from the rubble of the old. We will support sustainable growth and enterprise, balanced across all regions and all industries, and promote the green industries that are so
essential for our future. (page 7)

The Government has given us an important and ambitious vision of a ‘new economy’, but not enough detail on how science and engineering will help us get there.

Science and engineering have a critical role to play in achieving growth and reducing the deficit. The coalition needs to explain how and when it will develop a long-term strategy for science and engineering. This is necessary to address the technological challenges facing the UK, to secure our international competitiveness, and to make the most of the economic growth that investment in innovation can provide.

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MPs to Watch

CaSE has developed a list of those MPs with an interest or background in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) who have been re-elected or newly elected to Parliament. We have now written to these MPs, inviting them to engage with science and engineering issues.  If you wish to give us any feedback on the list please get in touch.

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Welcoming Willetts

In our brave new coalition government, it seems that there will be two strong, respected and thoughtful advocates for science and engineering. David Willetts has been appointed Minister of State for Universities and Science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) with Vince Cable as Secretary of State for BIS. Cable studied natural sciences with economics at Cambridge and, while his background is not in the sciences, Willetts has often engaged well with science issues in his former roles as Shadow Secretary for Education and then Innovation, Universities and Skills. Read More »

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Coalition Commitments?

The dramatic election outcome gives the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats an opportunity to rethink and refine their election commitments. Science and engineering did not feature in the coalition negotiation agreement, but looking through the parties’ manifestos and additional commitments made in letters from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to CaSE, gives us a feel for what the future might hold.

Below we summarise the main areas of consensus and difference between the parties relevant to science and engineering, with just a few interjections from CaSE on what we would like to see… Read More »

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