Thursday, 23 July 2009

Scientists Not Involved In Policy

It probably comes as no surprise to most scientists that they have been excluded from scientific policy decisions by the Government, according to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Parliamentary Committee (IUSS Committee hereafter):

Scientists "kept at arm's length"

The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Parliamentary Committee is a cross-party committee whose official remit is:
To examine the administration, expenditure and policy of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, including further education, higher education, skills and the Government Office for Science which has responsibility for science across all Government departments.
Of course, now that DIUS has been disbanded and mostly shifted over to DBIS one assumes this will be updated soon enough.

On the subject of this, one of the IUSS Committee's main concerns is the way that the Government Office for Science has been passed around departments like a hot potato (maybe I should be in science policy...), which gives the impression that it doesn't give a pair of foetid dingoes' kidneys about science.

And here's something that American scientists have had to put up with for the duration of the Bush Administration (possibly before that? Grateful for any further information from the Old Guard), which has been suspected for some time in the UK, but which looks damn scary written down:
The committee said that too often advisers came under intense pressure to agree with the government's stance on an issue.
It's things like this that make me very glad I work in a discipline that is unlikely to need to have a major input on Government policy. I don't know whether this "intense pressure" is merely that senior officials in institutions like the Royal Society are leaned upon to make statements that fit with policy, or whether (as reported in the USA in Top Scientists Want Research Free From Politics in February 2008):
"Government scientists have had their findings subjected to censorship and misrepresentation," said Kurt Gottfried, professor of physics at Cornell University and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The public and Congress have often been deprived of accurate and candid scientific information."
Perhaps the IUSS Committee should check whether British scientists are having Research Council funding cut for "inconvenient" research projects. I really hope they're not; I have a very high opinion of the Research Councils and the work they do in the face of having their own budgets cut. I fear if there is such funding pressure it's happening in agencies such as FERA, which, given their research areas, could be quite detrimental to public health and the environment.

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