Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the British Psychological Society

  1.  As the learned society for psychology, The British Psychological Society, under its Royal Charter, promotes the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of psychology pure and applied. As well as setting and maintaining high professional standards for psychologists, the Society exists to bring the insights gained from psychologists' research and practice into the public realm for the benefit of all.

  2.  The Society welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the inquiry into the government funding of the scientific learned societies and applauds the interest of the committee in the quality of scientific advice available to government which this inquiry demonstrates.

  3.  The Society believes that government policy should be based on the best available scientific evidence. We recognise the importance of contributing to the policy making process and devote considerable resources to making psychological expertise available in Whitehall and Westminster.

  4.  All parts of government should welcome to contribution of science to evidence-based policy making. The existing support for learned societies and other learned bodies should be regarded as a base from which the contribution of science to political and public life must be developed.

  5.  Among the Society's 34,000 plus members is a wealth of expertise on issues of concern to many different government departments. There is a particularly strong history of input to science, health and education policy. In the past two years, the Society has responded to 20 UK government consultations, 27 consultations by other bodies and provided members for departmental working or consultative groups. In addition, the Society publishes research which informs policy making, meets with Ministers and works closely with POST on individual research projects. The estimated cost of this work, to the Society, which is not financially supported by government, is in excess of £15,000.

  6.  However there are many parts of government that do not make full use of the scientific advice which psychologists could offer. Transport, criminal justice, work and pensions, trade and industry, defence, food and rural affairs and housing policy would all benefit from research which has been conducted by psychologists. That policies are being made in these areas without recourse to the best evidence available is disappointing.

  7.  The Society intends to promote the contribution of psychologists to policy making across departments. It is our belief that a co-ordinated approach by our members to government would add value to the work of individual psychologists and government departments as well as the science base and government as a whole.

  8.  Relations between the scientific and research communities and government should not be confined to the policy silos within which these interactions have traditionally occurred. The Society hopes that broadening the range of psychologist/government interactions will make a positive contribution to the efforts of the OST and the Chief Scientific Advisor in raising the profile of science across Whitehall.

  9.  The Society endorses the view of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (expressed in her evidence to the committee on 19 December 2001) that those who understand the importance of the science base must make the case for government spending on science and believes that this responsibility will endure beyond the current spending review.

  10.  In the interest of broadening the base from which advice to government is drawn, the Society would welcome some financial support for input to one-off inquiries being made available to organisations that do not receive grant-in-aid from the government.

  11.  Within the last five years the time allowed for responses to government consultations has shortened considerably. Whereas before there might have been three months plus, the time scale now may be as short as a few weeks. Our members' responses are produced on an entirely voluntary basis; attempting to persuade them to drop existing work commitments at short notice to draft a response to government is becoming increasingly hard. Government should recognise that those with the greatest expertise are likely to have the busiest schedules and plan its consultation process accordingly.

April 2002

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