20:20 on science and policy

Recently a paper was published, by scientists, about the 20 things that politicians should understand about science.

It’s a bit of an irritating list and I was just about to sit down and write about the 20 things that scientists should know about politics and policy-making when, partly to my relief and partly to my disappointment, I found that somebody had done it already.

Chris Tyler is the Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and his article is well worth a read.

By the time you read this short blog I will have taken part in a discussion about whether science is policy-led or policy is science-led, so I am thinking about these issues right now.


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2 Replies to “20:20 on science and policy”

  1. There is a very simple bottom line here: a virtually unvalued class (you were part of it Mark !) - the policy people whop have a scientific grounding and bridge the gap which the scientist's paper illustrates all too clearly ! It's a class that translates the arcane detail of science into practical action - and recognises that political decisions usually come down to just one pivotal point (why does no one ever wonder about or question all the marvellous reports with 60 reccomendations that disappear without trace ?) And it is a class which our political system has done its best to eliminate - its the PPE and Economics graduates who dominate everything - yes, theres' a debate about how many women are civil service permanent secretaries (got better but now much worse - I blame the public school Tory Ministers) - but where is the debate about science/technical leaders in the civil service - not one single permanent secretary, not even the MOD and its probably best not to go over Minister's qualifications either. There is a limit to what you can communicate - I've been up against it - how do you explain to even the brightest history graduate how land & natural resources work when the last science they did was their biology O level ? Don't assume its all our fault - it isn't, we've created a system and structures which simply aren't fit to cope with issues like climate change.

  2. A few more thoughts (I wonder if I'm talking to myself here ? I know its a bit geeky, but it is how some of us live !)

    What I'm not seeing in either paper is how to make better decisions on the available knowledge - though Charles Tyler is quite right that 'we need more research' is very unhelpful, as well as generally being assumed as a bid for money amongst most Govt policy makers. It really matters to me because in forestry 2050 isn't a place we scare ourselves with as the 'terrible future' - its middle age for the trees we put in the ground tomorrow.

    The other thing is both the breadth of the decisions needed to create a reality - when the policy maker (ODPM) said 'we want some green space' the interpretation involved everything from soil chemistry through aesthetics to kids excluded from school - but compared to single-focus science or theoretical economics (which frequently today limits the scope of delivery because economists are struggling to 'discover' the links between environment, well being, nature etc) there is little respect for these skills - in fact, deliverers in the public sector are increasingly demonised - look at the Department of Education, spinning like a top as it tries one nutty idea after another, and blames teachers for 'blocking' change which even lay people can see is crazy.


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