Submission from BRE Global
Science and engineering are so important
to the success and well being of our nation that I recommend we
have a Department of Science overseen by a committee chaired by
the Prime Minister. Government needs an overarching
strategy and associated policies for ensuring triple bottom line
sustainability. This needs to be informed by proper scientific
evidence rather than being driven by issues which can lead to
waste and ineffective or damaging policy. Science at
the academic level is well regarded and funded on a long term
basis. The real gap comes in its application to Government policy
where research is short term and carried out on a project by project
basis frequently specified and managed by non-scientists across
a range of Government Departments, regions and NPDBs. Delivery
of Government science policy needs to be joined up rather than
fragmented. This is particularly vital for science work associated
with climate change, and the construction, management and maintenance
of our National infrastructure.
Better scientific education of the
nation is essential to our success.
Question 1: Whether the Cabinet Sub-Committee
on Science and Innovation and the Council for Science and Technology
put science and engineering at the heart of policy-making and
whether there should be a department for Science.
1.1 Although I have spent my entire career
working in sciencein academia, industry, Government and
latterly as Chief Executive of a technical business which is part
of a Charitable Trust, I see little evidence that science and
engineering is really at the heart of Government policy and conclude
that the Cabinet Sub-Committee and Council have been unsuccessful.
1.2 The nature of our democracy and the media
is such that Government has a natural tendency to focus its attention
on the political issues of the daybig or smallfrom
light bulbs, unemployment, shops or diabetes through to taxation,
climate change, health and safety, justice, trade and agriculture.
This makes it very difficult to take account of the fact that
actually most issues are inter-related and that we all live in
a planetary ecosystem governed by the laws of physics, chemistry
and biology. This system is essentially a closed system (other
than the influx of solar radiation) with a finite capacity to
cope with the demands the world's population makes on it. Unless
we put real science (and also engineering, economics and ethicshereinafter
referred to just as science) at the heart of what we do then at
some point, a combination of population and economic growth could
mean that the demands for raw materials and energy will exceed
the ability of nature to replenish them and also to absorb the
1.3 To put science and engineering at the
heart of policy-making requires a real overarching Government
strategy coupled with a coherent means of assessing and delivering
the associated policies. Current fragmentation of policy and
structural issues across Departments (discussed briefly below
in response to other questions) make this very difficult. A
related issue is that the Chief Scientist can end up being seen
as a nuisance who interferes with Departments rather than as a
leader who ensures effectiveness of science.
1.4 Science and engineering are so important
to the success of our nation that I recommend we follow Norway's
example and have a Department of Science overseen by a committee
chaired by the Prime Minister. This would need to be underpinned
by better science and mathematics education for everyonewe
can't build a strong and triple bottom line sustainable economy
on wishful thinking; Politicians willing to lead sustainable change
will only get elected if people understand what really matters.
Question 2: How Government formulates science
and engineering policy (strengths and weaknesses of the current
2.1 The science of climate change, energy
security, health, education, construction and agriculture remains
poorly understood and provokes intense debate, lobbying and positioning.
The responsibilities for development and implementation of
policies for them fall across a wide range of Government Departments,
Regions, Local Authorities and NDPBs. Demarcation lines are sometimes
unclear and/or ignored.
2.2 As a result of this fragmentation of policy
responsibilities there is often insufficient money available to
research the issues properly, identify options, establish which
are best and then implement them. Duplication of effort, failures
to learn from experience and omission of vital work become rife.
Not only does this waste tax payers money directly, worse
still, it can undermine science and the Government by leading
to research to back up a policy rather than to inform it ("policy
based evidence" rather than "evidence based policy").
2.3 We hope that the recent announcement
of the formation of the Department for Energy and Climate Change
will really bring together policy and its implementation in this
important areaand bring much needed science to bear on
the issues. A few illustrations of the effects of recent failures
to bring science to the area of climate change made worse by fragmentation
of responsibilities are given in an Annex below.
Question 3: Whether the views of the science
and engineering community are, or should be, central to the formulation
of government policy, and how the success of any consultation
3.1 Science should be at the heart of what
we do as a nation and it is surely the responsibility of Government
to ensure that it is used to improve the long term safety, well-being
and triple bottom line sustainability of the nation. The science
and engineering community are a very important group that Government
needs to listen to, but their inputs must be subject to proper
scrutiny and peer review. As the infamous story of Millikan and
the charge on the electron illustrates, even the best scientists
can fool themselves.
3.2 Research councils should be "guardians
of the independence of science" but as members are both recipients
and distributors of grant money they are subject to conflicts
of interest and this needs to be addressed.
3.3 In general, we are well served by our
Universities who are able to carry out long term basic research.
The real gap comes in the application to Government policy where
research is short term and carried out on a project by project
basis frequently specified and managed by non-scientists. As
a consequence a lot of tax payers money is wastednot just
on poor research but on badly founded policy (see illustrative
examples in the Annex). This situation has got considerably
worse over the years. J B S Haldane (a relative of the Haldane
who invented the principle) illustrated that the tendency of government
to forget what they have already done is not new. J B S Haldane
when discussing coal-gas poisoning mentioned that research in
1899 by the Home Office showed that exchange of air in homes
is chiefly through the walls; but that same Home Office issued
guidance in 1938 concerning protecting your house against
air raids, ignored this report, and instead concentrated on plugging
gaps in windows and doors to protect against poison gas (and ignored
completely the main danger from air raidsexplosive bombs!)
3.4 A related matter is that the EU spends
a lot of money on applied research to make the EU more competitive.
We don't have any form of national strategy for exploiting it.
Question 4: The case for a regional science
policy (versus national science policy) and whether the Haldane
principle needs updating
4.1 Regional science policy is madness and
just increases fragmentation, duplication and waste of tax payers
money! See above. Science is expensive, hard work and can
often be very long term and tedious. Regional science is already
leading to low quality superficial work where we fail to learn
the lessons from the current science and engineering community
as well as from the past.
4.2 The Haldane principle needs to be updated
for the 21st century. Researchers inevitably want more research.
It is surely Government's role to set national priorities and
policies informed and underpinned by science. Researchers can
then identify solutions and options for implementing the policies
and applied scientists and engineers from the Research and Technology
Organisations and industry can help with their assessment and
4.3 The new Haldane principle would then
be that each of the primary Government policies should be informed
by science and that each new problem or opportunity should be
tackled by integrated and informed research designed to identify
options for solving them. Implementation decisions for the
policies should be subject to peer review (basic and applied),
parliamentary scrutiny and assessments of cost effectiveness/value
for money for the tax payer
Question 5: Engaging the public and increasing
public confidence in science and engineering policy
5.1 Fragmentation of Government, "policy
based evidence" and shortage of good science teachers has
inevitably dented public confidence. There is no quick fixwe've
got to address science, engineering and economic education at
Question 6: The role of GO-Science, DIUS,
and other Government Departments, charities, learned societies,
Regional Development Agencies, industry and other stakeholders
in determining UK science and engineering policy
6.1 The question again highlights the problem
that there are too many bodies dispensing or chasing precious
tax payers money, with the consequent fragmentation of policies
and approaches. We should not be relying on charities such
as the BRE Trust to fund work essential to the well being of the
nation but should support them, the Universities and the RTOs.
Question 7: How government science and engineering
policy should be scrutinised.
7.1 We consider that it is the role of Government
to set high level national priorities and policies informed and
underpinned by high standards of engineering, science and economic
education and research. Scrutiny should surely be by Parliament
with support from eminent scientists, engineers and economists
who have minimal conflicts of interest?
34 "Science and Everyday Life"-J B S Haldane