Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 132-139)




  132. I am sorry about the delay. We had some internal business to discuss about other inquiries we are setting up. I am sorry about the space, we did not know we were going to be that attractive. We know the Transport Select Committee often has big audiences but obviously science is moving up the agenda, I am sure it is because the British Computer Society is number one on the agenda. We welcome you here to help us in our inquiry. You will know we are looking at Government funding of learned societies and looking for views. You have probably read some of the scripts and some of the thoughts that we have had from other organisations. We will have to be very sharp and could I encourage you to make your answers as short-lived as possible, but not to miss out the major points.


  133. If subsequently, when you go home and you are shaving or whatever, watching England achieve the impossible—
  (Mr Clarke) I spot a Scottish accent.

  134.—could I say you can always write in subsequently if you feel you have missed out a point or we did not ask you something or you did not have a chance to make a point. Let me start off then. Your memorandum expresses concern at the lack of representation in the "newer sciences" in the Royal Society. Could you explain, briefly please, what you meant by that? It can be any one of you.
  (Professor McDermid) If I may respond to that. Our concern particularly is in the area of computing but, more broadly, science in technology is moving very rapidly. It seems that the Royal Society in particular is relatively slow in adapting new areas, new technologies. I cannot say they do not have any ability to respond. They have recently elected a fellow in nanotechnology which is very new but broadly there seems to be a problem.

  135. Okay. The Royal Society has told us that there are actually two panels dealing with computing, however. What is your assessment of the current Royal Society panel arrangement for computing in that case?
  (Professor McDermid) There are two committees who admit fellows from computing. One is mathematics in computing and therefore it tends to appoint people much more at the theoretical end of the discipline. There is an Engineering Committee which tends to appoint people more from the engineering electronics end of the discipline. Our concern is that there are a broad spectrum of activities within computing which are not perhaps well matched to these two particular committees. Our feeling is it does not cover the whole spectrum very evenly or very adequately.

  136. Another factor is in your submission you say there are 20 out of 1,600 research academics in computing who are FRSs, Fellows of the Royal Society. The Royal Society claim they have 50 computer scientific fellows. Can you get the discrepancy together somehow? What is the difference? Why?
  (Professor McDermid) I would have to say honestly that it is very difficult to disinter from the Royal Society website who is in what area. My suspicion is their 50 includes a lot of people who apply computing as a major element of their research in other areas but I cannot be certain. If you want a detailed answer I would have to go away and do a bit of research to get that.

  137. That would be quite useful so we know we are talking about equal figures here. You are further critical of the scientific advice provided to Government by the Royal Society and indeed the Royal Academy of Engineering. You think that they lack expertise in these modern arenas we have just been talking about.
  (Professor McDermid) I am not critical of advice in particular but saying that they do not have the depth of expertise one would hope you would be able to call on when looking at particular problems.

  138. You feel you have been shut out in this process?
  (Professor McDermid) Not the Society in particular, I was thinking of the community more broadly.

  139. Do individual members of the computing community—if I can put it that way—feel that they are not incorporated into the general thinking?
  (Professor McDermid) That is right. I think that is a good summary of the position.


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