Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1280-1283)


14 JUNE 2006

  Q1280  Dr Turner: But you said to inform, rather than evidence based.

  Mr Coaker: Your decisions are informed by the evidence. The evidence is there. You need to be informed by the evidence. In the end, however, people make judgments. Sometimes the evidence conflicts, even from scientists. You get different scientists saying different things. Then what do you do? They are both saying that they have the right evidence. "I am a scientist. I have this evidence." Another scientist comes along with completely different evidence. In the end, there is a judgment that is made; but what you are trying to do is that your policy is informed by the evidence. That is the role of the Chief Scientific Adviser.

  Q1281  Dr Harris: In an article in Criminal Justice Matters, Professor Tim Hope, who is Professor of Criminology at the University of Keele, said, " . . . it was with sadness and regret"—in dealing with the Home Office—"that I saw our work ill-used and our faith in government's use of evidence traduced". My question to you is this. Do you take allegations like that seriously, or do you think it is just not fair and can never happen? That was the impression I had from your answer to the earlier quote, "To participate in Home Office research is to endorse a biased agenda". Are you concerned about allegations like that, or is it just mischief-making in your view?

  Mr Coaker: No. If people are making comments to you, you need to take those comments into account, even if you find them uncomfortable. You need to listen to what people have to say. The point I was making before was that sometimes you will get conflicting pieces of evidence, in that some people will put forward one thing and somebody else will make a completely different point. In the end, you have to make a judgment.

  Q1282  Dr Harris: This is a different point. This is an allegation of misuse, a traducement, bad faith by the Home Office. It is a separate issue about whether the policy was right. My question is this. Are you sensitive to that?

  Joan Ryan: There are a large number of people who say very complimentary things as well. So there is always a balance to be struck. It is true that different scientists take different views.

  Q1283  Chairman: But you agree that they should be taken into account?

  Mr Coaker: You do. They should always be looked at and taken into account. I am sorry if I gave the impression before that I did not, because I did not mean that—if I did give that impression.

  Chairman: Vernon Coaker, Joan Ryan, thank you very much indeed. It has been a long session. We have enjoyed it enormously. It has been very valuable to us.

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