Memorandum submitted by the Institute
1. The Institute of Biology is the independent
professional body charged by Royal Charter to represent UK biology.
With over 16,000 members and some 76 specialist learned biological
societies affiliated to it, the Institute is well placed to respond
to the above consultation on the impact of the 1993 White Paper
for science. In particular, this response is jointly submitted
with the following 13 Affiliated Societies: the Association of
Applied Biologists, the Association of Clinical Microbiologists,
the British Association for Cancer Research, the British Association
for Psychopharmacology, the British Ecological Society, the British
Electrophoresis Society, the British Grassland Society, British
Society for Plant Pathology, the British Toxicology Society, the
Freshwater Biological Association, the Institute of Trichologists,
the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the Society for
the Study of Fertility. One of the co-authoring Affiliated Societies,
the British Association for Psychopharmacology, has also submitted
comments via the UK Life Science Committee (UKLSC) which has a
more molecular focus within the broad biological spectrum represented
by the 76 learned biological societies affiliated to the Institute
of Biology. The UKLSC has separately submitted its own response
to this consultation.
2. The principal points of this response
(i) After the first round, there was little
of particular benefit to the life science community in Technology
Foresight. However, it may still be of benefit to policy-makers.
(ii) The Council for Science and Technology
(within the Office of Science & Technology) has not been as
visibly active as its precursor, the Advisory Council on Science
and Technology (ACOST). The role, though remains useful.
(iii) The decline in Departmental investment
in science has impeded technology transfer.
(iv) The new Research Council mission statements
with their explicit commitment to wealth creation and the quality
of life may be threatening blue skies (fundamental and basic)
(v) Despite the White Paper identifying the
problem of short-term contracts, this issue remains one of very
great concern to the biological community.
(vi) While it is important that the UK visibly
obtains value for its investment in science, there are some difficulties
with the Research Assessment Exercises.
(vii) The reorganization of the Research
Councils was largely successful, but now the balance between whole-organism,
molecular and systems research needs to be re-assessed so that
the UK can begin to apply the new molecular sciences to whole-organisms,
populations and systems.
(viii) The creation of the Director General
(DG) of the Research Councils has been largely beneficial.
(ix) The lack of public understanding of
science is in some instances impeding progress. Despite societal
traits that counter science, scientists are frequently not given
the time to adequately network, publish books, or engage in public
(x) A subsequent White Paper might address
the following issues:
(a) the level of long-term Government
investment in science;
(b) the proportion of short-term contracts
(c) positioning the UK to reap the benefits
of the various genome projects;
(d) the placement of science within Government
for maximum benefit;
(e) ensuring that scientists can engage
in scholarship and public understanding activities;
The headings in non-serif bold refer to the
topics raised by the Select Committee on the original 1993 White
Forward Look is welcome
3. The annual report, Forward Look, from the
Office of Science and Technology is particularly useful and is
The 12 year retrospective, and three year forward
look, is particularly useful
4. It is important that the data throughout
represent a meaningful time frame. The 12 year retrospective,
and three year forward look, in historical trends continues to
be particularly useful in placing policy in a historical context
covering a number of Parliaments. Less useful, and potentially
misleading, is the two-year retrospective used in the main body
of the report (the first two chapters of the 1999 edition).
Subsequent to the first round, Foresight has generated
5. Technology Foresight (now Foresight) does
not appear to have been of particular benefit to the life science
community. Apart from the initial Foresight round, the Institute
and many of its Affiliated Societies have found that the life
science community has had little or no interest in Foresight.
On a number of occasions when attempting to compile responses
for the various Foresight initiatives, contacting over 30 of its
most active Affiliated Societies in addition to over 25 members
of its science policy committees, yielded a minimal response (typically
three or less). In addition, when jointly organising a Foresight
workshop over 100 industriesbelonging to an associate bodywere
contacted offering them a chance to explore Foresight concerns,
not one replied.
Foresight may benefit Parliamentarians
6. However, the enthusiasm with which Foresight
appears to be received from both sides of the House suggests that
there is still merit in the programme. Continuing Foresight may
well be of significant benefit to Parliamentarians (in summarising
senior scientists' perceptions as to how science and technology
will probably develop). This benefit should not be discounted,
but equally not confused with enhancing a UK strategy for science.
Foresight may be unduly affecting the Science
7. Of some concern is that Foresight goals
have become a part of applying for some research grants from the
Research Councils (whose principal thrust should be in supporting
more basic research2 (both fundamental and blue skies research)).
If the function of the Foresight reports is to illuminate policy
(including that of technical innovation) then the principal (though
not sole) brunt of Foresight-driven research should be through
Government Departments and their Agencies, Regrettably, this source
of funding has seen real-term cuts over the past one and a half
decades3: cuts which themselves have been of Select Committee
concern on more than one occasion.4 This is not to say that the
Research Councils should be completely independent of Foresight,
but that the balance has shifted and that current circumstances
are not ideal.
ACOST AND THE
The CST has been less visible than ACOST. The
role remains important
8. The Council for Science and Technology (within
the Office of Science and Technology) has not been as visibly
active as its precursor, the Advisory Council on Science and Technology
(ACOST). However, the role remains an important one and is deserving
of greater attention.
Despite the success of some schemes, technology
transfer is comparatively weak
9. Schemes such as the Teaching Company Directorate,
and LINK, have been successful. However, give the excellence of
the Science Base, on the whole, technology transfer remains comparatively
Departmental support for Technology Transfer has
10. In sub-sections on "access to science"
(paragraphs 2.10-2.13) and "technology transfer" (paragraphs
2.14-2.19) of the 1993 White Paper, several references are made
to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as well as to other
Departments (paragraph 2.19) as the bodies to facilitate technology
transfer. Yet real-term investment in DTI R&D funding has
declined markedly since 1992-93 despite a major boost to funding
that year. Overall, Departmental R&D budgets have seen a real-term
decline of some 28 per cent between 1986-87 and 1998-99. DTI R&D
investment declined by over 38 per cent in real terms since Realising
Our Potential and 1998-99. Notwithstanding the difficulties of
technology transfer, against a background of such decline in investment
it is not surprising that technology transfer has not flourished
as perhaps it might.
There is concern for blue skies research within
the Research Councils
11. The new Research Council mission statements
with their explicit commitment to wealth creation and the quality
of life may be threatening blue skies (fundamental and basic)
research. The BIG breakthroughs in science do not necessarily
have an immediate commercial application.
The 1993 "wealth creation" theme helped
12. However, the wealth creation dimension
to the 1993 White Paper was welcome in that prior to that there
was a philosophy that all applied research would be paid for by
industry. In reality, industry is in the main motivated to fund
near-market research (if industry funds research with clear potential
applications but no product, or tested market, the it may be funding
research that its competitors could use). Though it is not clear
whether it was this philosophythat industry should fund
all applied researchthat continued the trend in decline
in Departmental R&D (or whether this decline was due to managing
Departmental budgets), the White Paper did help boost funding
for applied research, albeit somewhat circuitously. This has undoubtedly
helped with technology transfer.
The balance between blue skies and applied research
13. Looking forward to the forthcoming White
Paper, the Institute of Biology has surveyed its Affiliated Societies
and is in the process of drafting a priorities document for UK
biology. Though currently in its draft form5, it should be noted
that one top priority is the question of the balance between blue
skies (fundamental and basic) research and applied research. It
is felt that the decline of Departmental investment in R&D
(and indeed the decline in synergism from the decline in Defence
R&D with Civil research) has squeezed the blue skies dimension
to Research Council funding. This balance should be reconsidered
in conjunction with the restoration of Departmental Funding (for
which we gratefully note the Select Committee has already called6).
We would suggest that Departmental funding be restored to its
real-term mid-1980 level and there be come restoration of Defence
R&D. It is worth noting that there is a logical argument for
the restoration to be greater if it is based on a proportion of
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) basis.
The dominance of short-term contracts do not attract
those with excellence to science
14. The 1993 White paper notes, in the section
on the science and engineering base, industry and Government (paragraph
3.13), the importance of excellence to industry. Further, it states
that "second-rate research is a poor buy". The question
then arises as to whether British science is, as a career choice,
attracting those of the best calibre? Of all the concerns raised
by the Affiliated Societies in the Institute's survey, that of
"short-term contracts and career structure (prospects)"
continues to be of major concern since our previous survey in
1997. Indeed, other than the "state and status of UK research",
"short-term contracts and career structures" are currently
the second most cited of Affiliated Society concerns.
Adequate assessment of industrial research lacking
in the RAE
15. The 1993 White Paper also notes (again
in paragraph 3.13) that it "expect[s] research relevant to
industrial and other users to be taken into account by the Higher
Education Funding Councils in their Research Assessment Exercises"
(RAE). However, the Institute and a number of its Affiliated Societies
have previously jointly expressed concerns that the RAE fails
to assess properly the industrial research undertaken by universities.7
Scholarship activities are actively being discouraged
16. Similarly, with regard to promoting
excellent scientists in the long-term, the Institute and some
of its Affiliated Societies have expressed concern8 that the drive
for university income (again encouraged by the RAE) is positively
discouraging scholarship activities. (Such activities include
organising and attending symposia, writing text books and work
with learned and professional bodies.) Indeed, we note that Cambridge
University Press (CUP) in its resent evidence to the House of
Lords Select Committee enquiry on "Science and Society"
noted that some academics were actively discouraged from writing
books. The Institute of Biology, which co-publishes texts with
CUP, has also quite independently come across researchers who
have been instructed not to write. Communicating, be it by writing,
networking etc., is a fundamental part of technology transfer
and the curtailment of scholarship activities is to be deplored.
The rationalization of the Research Councils was
17. The 1993 White Paper's rationalization of
the Research Councils was most welcome. It made sense for engineering
to be combined with the physical sciences and for biotechnology
to be brought into a biologically focused Research Council.
Consequently, the creation of the Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) was most welcome.
Molecular biological understanding now needs to
be applied to whole-organisms
18. The BBSRC has been most successful in
funding work that furthers our understanding of molecular and
cell biology together with biotechnology. However, we now need
to look forward. There is considerable concern, as revealed through
the Institute's survey of Affiliated Societies, that the balance
between funding molecular as opposed to whole-organism research,
as well as the relevance of molecular biology to whole-organisms,
populations and systems, needs to be re-assessed. This concern
represents what we have called the post-genome challenge for the
UK. Britain now needs to position itself to reap the gains from
past and current genomic work in applying this knowledge to whole-organisms,
whole-organisms and communities.
GENERAL (DG) OF
The post of DG of the Research Councils is welcome
19. The creation of DG of the Research Councils
has been largely beneficial. It provides the Research Councils
with the necessary co-ordination and a champion within the OST
as well as frees the Chief Scientific Advisor to focus on cross-Departmental
co-ordination and advising the Government of the day.
The Institute of Biology is actively involved
with public understanding
20. Echoing the 1993 White Paper (paragraphs
7.32-7.38) the Institute of Biology has long been aware of the
need for public understanding of science and regularly engages
in public understanding activities, including:
(i) holding public events with non-scientific
(ii) providing advice and contacts to newspapers,
TV, and radio;
(iii) getting the latest science to teachers
through the Journal of Biological Education;
(iv) organising biological contributions
to cyberspace conferences (for non-scientists);
(v) providing careers information for both
GCSE and "A" level pupils;
(vi) (up to 1993) maintaining a data base
of speakers on biological topics which was subsequently subsumed
by the DTI & COPUS's "Talking Science Data Base";
(vii) making available IoB policy offprints
available to appropriate public and political meetings;
(viii) providing advice, and explaining science,
Some frontier science issues do cause public concern
21. Yet despite this, together with the
public understanding work of many others, since 1993 there have
been a number of issues where frontier science, and its inherent
uncertainty, has caused considerable public and political concern.
Such issues have included: xenotransplantation, cloning, mobile
phone safety, genetic modification, and climate change issues.
There are public concerns over some more established
areas of science
22. There has also been public and political
concerns over more established areas of science, including: food
poisoning, loss of biodiversity, and antibiotic resistance.
Some non-science concerns adopt the trappings
23. Finally, there has been the continued
promulgation of non-science using the trappings of science. For
instance, the use of non-trialed alternative therapies that are
referred to as "medicines" and which are available from
pharmacists alongside conventional treatments, or "green"
concerns couched in terms such as "environmental science"
Enmity, albeit from a vocal minority, is impeding
some scientific progress
24. Against this background, enmity, as
often expressed by a vocal minority, is impeding some scientific
progress. For example, with regard to animal experimentation polls
indicate that most people want testing if there are risks to human
health at stake.11 Also polls show that there are misperceptions
of what and how much experimentation goes on, and, indeed, inconsistencies
between declared welfare concerns and behaviour.12 Another issue
of public concern is that of genetically modified organisms. These
have been used for several years for producing medicines for human
consumption, but are only now of concern when used to enhance
and/or preserve human food supply.
Failure to resolve the above may have considerable
economic consequences for the UK
25. Such issues need to be resolved if the
UK is to reap the benefit of new scientific developments such
as the Human Genome Project. The economic consequences of failing
to tackle this will be difficult to ignore. As per paragraph 18
above, this concern is one that the Institute's Affiliated Societies
have identified as a biological priority for the UK.13
Scientific advice must be completely transparent
and time given for proper formulation
26. There are a number of reasons causing
public mistrust in science. One of these is the way scientific
advice is solicited (and we welcome the Select Committee's current
run of enquiries on scientific advice). Indeed the 1993 White
Paper itself refers to the nation's need for scientific advice
(paragraph 2.41). The public rightly expects complete transparency
of advice and so all parties contributing to, or endorsing, advice
should be clearly and fully cited. Advice affecting civil policy
also needs to be publicly available and seen to be publicly available.
Finally, scientists understandably require time in which to properly
formulate a response. There are indeed, Cabinet Office Guidelines
as to the way consultations should be conducted.14 Unfortunately,
transparency is not always complete, nor is there always adherence
to consultation guidelines.
The RAE does not encourage scientists to engage
in public understanding exercises
27. Notwithstanding the above, the time
scientists can devote to public understanding exercises (or even
participating in consultations) is minimal if not, in some circumstance,
non-existent. Similar to the concerns raised in paragraph 16 above,
the RAE does not encourage scientists to engage in public understanding
of science. Indeed, the twoscholarship activities and public
understanding activitiesare related. Researchers through
scholarship activities (through activities within academia and
through learned and professional bodies) can see how their research
fits into the broader landscape and so are both better placed
and equipped to undertake meaningful public understanding of science
The problem of public understanding is considerable
28. Scientists actively need to be empowered
to engage in public understanding exercises as the problem is
a considerable one. It has been summarised by the Nobel laureate,
astrophysicist, science writer and SF author Carl Sagan,15 thus:
"An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived
on Earthscrutinising what we mainly present to our children
on television and radio and in movies, newspapers, magazines,
comics and many booksmight easily conclude that we are
intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity
and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition,
many of them finally get it. What kind of society would we create
if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?"
For comparison purposes in 1999 the UK spent
over £15.3 billion promoting just one of the above: consumerism.16
A Strategy for Science
29. Having dwelt on the policies from the 1993
White Paper, it may be useful to look forward to the future and
the next White Paper. This might contain a strategy for science
which could include:
i. The Government's long-term investment
in UK science. A return to the mid-1980s level of investment in
UK science followed by subsequent growth in investment in line
with the economy. In other words, the investment in UK science
should be a constant proportion of the Gross Domestic Product.
ii. Regard to achieving a more equitable
through-put of numbers of researchers, where ultimately recruitment
in the public sector is more equal to retirement, so as to enable
career structures that will attract quality students to study,
hence quality graduates to embark on a scientific career.
iii. (With regard to "ii" above)
the urgent need to address the question of the dominance of short-term
contracts. This question was recognised in the 1993 White Paper
(paragraphs 7.26-7.31) but the problem is still with us. This
remains a top issue of concern to the Institute and its Affiliated
iv. Positioning the UK so that it can reap
the benefits of the various (including human) genome projects.
This will include policies that the UK has the right mix of skills
as well as policies towards experimentation that do not unduly
disadvantage the nation against competitors (see paragraphs 14
and 18). This too Institute Affiliates consider a top priority
for UK biology.
v. Ensuring that science interests (currently
co-ordinated by the OST within the DTI) are properly placed for
maximum effect across Government and with adequate political representation
at Cabinet level.
vi. Ensuring that scientists are genuinely
given the opportunity to spend a proportion of their time on scholarship
activities and public understanding of science.
vii. Ensuring that the UK has the appropriate
science to underpin environmental and economic sustainability.
Examples of areas requiring attention include: the production
of new chemicals and fuels from biological sources; conserving
bioresources from fisheries to the conservation of biodiversity;
bioremediation; the use of biotechnology to improve productivity
both of commercial processes and human beings through improved
health and quality of life. "Sustainability" has been
flagged as of importance by two Foresight rounds, as well as by
the Institute's Affiliated Societies.
viii Ensuring that devolution does not undermine
a UK strategy, specifically the UK science base. Rather, it should
provide an additional dimension through the appropriate regional
Departments. There will also need to be guidelines regarding the
flow of scientific advice that is not solely of relevance to the
30. The Institute and the co-authoring Affiliated
Societies, in line with policy on openness, have no objection
to this evidence being made public. It will shortly be available
1 Office of Science and Technology (1999) The
Forward Look 1999: Government-funded science, engineering &
technology. Stationery Office: London.
2 Paragraph 3.8 Cabinet Office (1993) Realising
Our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology.
Cm 2250. HMSO: London.
3 Institute of Biology, Association of Applied
Biologists, Association of Clinical Cytogeneticists; Association
of Clinical Microbiologists, British Association for Cancer Research,
British Association for Lung Research, British Association for
Psychopharmacology, British Association for Tissue Banking, British
Ecological Society, British Electrophoresis Society, British Grassland
Society, British Phycological Society, British Society for Animal
Science, British Society for Immunology, Freshwater Biological
Association, Institute of Horticulture, Institute of Trichologists,
Marine Biological Association, Nutrition Society, Scottish Association
for Marine Science, and the Society for the Study of Fertility
(1999) Government Expenditure on Research and Development:
A consultation response to the House of Commons Select Committee
for Science & Technology. Institute of Biology: London.
4 House of Commons Science & Technology
Committee (2000) Government Expenditure on Research and Development:
The Forward Look (vol I). Stationery Office: London.
5 Institute of Biology (2000) Biological Affiliated
Societies Policy Priorities (Draft). Institute of Biology: London.
6 Ibid. ref 4.
7 Institute of Biology, British Electrophoresis
Society, Society for Applied Microbiology, Society for the Study
of Human Biology, Association for Applied Biologists, British
Ecological Society, British Phycological Society, British Society
for Animal Science, British Toxicology Society, Freshwater Biology
Association, Institute of Horticulture, Linnean Society of London,
Marine Biological Association, Society for Experimental Biology,
Society for the Study of Fertility, and the Institute of Trichologists
(1998) Research Assessment response to the Higher Education
Funding Councils. Institute of Biology: London.
8 Ibid ref. 6.
9 Cambridge University Press, in House of Lords
Select Committee on Science & Technology (2000) Science
and Society Evidence HL Paper 38-I. Stationery Office: London.
10 Ibid. ref. 5.
11 Lock, R, (1993) Use of animals in schools:
Pupil knowledge, experience and attitudes, in Ethical Issues
in Biomedical Sciences: Animals in Research and Education.
Institute of Biology: London.
12 Davies, B, (2000) In-depth survey of public
attitudes shows surprising degree of acceptance. RDS News
(April) pp 8-9.
13 Ibid. ref. 5.
14 Cabinet Office (1998) How to conduct written
consultation exercises. EX30 1998-99. Stationery Office: London.
15 Sagan, C, (1996) The Demon-Haunted World:
Science As A Candle In the Dark. Headline: London.
16 Advertising Association (2000)UK ADspend
breaks £15 billion barrier. Press Release 22 May 2000.
23 June 2000