Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Economic and Social Research Council

  There are a number of points we wish to make in addition to those in our June 2000 submission to the Committee's Inquiry.

  1.  The White Paper, Excellence and Opportunity, is mainly concerned with putting scientific knowledge into use through closer ties between the academic research community and the business sector. It explores a range of issues, from science education in schools to codes of practice for scientific committees, and it considers the role of government in the process of research and its exploitation. In its own terms, it may well have a positive effect on science and innovation.

  2.  However, one of our main concerns is that the social and economic sciences are almost completely absent from the White Paper, either as providing knowledge about the process of innovation, or as having a capacity for exploitation—particularly in an increasingly knowledge-based society and economy.

  3.  There is a great deal of work in the social sciences, much of it funded by the ESRC, covering business processes, innovation, economic and organisational performance. Many of the factors that promote or inhibit exploitation are behavioural, social and cultural, and forward projection of the trends and characteristics of the population in all areas of human activity form a key ingredient to business potential.

  4.  While the social sciences do not have such an obvious and commercially exploitable potential as the physical (or technical) sciences, they nevertheless are increasingly used in commercial processes—such as the design process for information and communication systems, and in the public service sector in the development and implementation of policies.

  5.  We noted in our previous submission to the Committee that the involvement of users of research in research council activity promoted by the Realising Our Potential White Paper had largely been achieved. However, we argued that this may have contributed to the diminishing public confidence in science and its exploitation, since it did not include the public from debates and decisions, and overtly addressed vested interests (mainly business) which may not be seen to be in keeping with those of the public.

  6.  The White Paper, Excellence and Opportunity, notes this problem, but does not address it adequately. The proposed Codes of Practice for Science Committees, for instance, fall well short of involving or serving the public community and its interests.

  7.  We remain less sanguine on the consistency between the Research Assessment Exercise 2001 and research utilisation than the White Paper.

  8.  Overall, therefore, we believe the Science and Innovation White Paper, though positive in many respects, unfortunately missed an opportunity through omitting social science research either as informing the mechanisms of innovation or as having potential for exploitation.

January 2001

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