Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 17

Submission from the Royal Statistical Society


  The submission covers the following points:

    —  There needs to be a wide definition of Science and that it should take into account Business and Enterprise.—  Policy should be formulated by Scientists taking into account the broad view of other Scientists.

    —  Due to current funding arrangements and University policies Statistical Science has suffered and situation has become critical in terms of production of adequate supply of qualified statistician.

    —  Devolution promotes local concerns and so there must be concern over coherent policies emerging, perhaps there needs to be an appropriate unifying framework.

    —  Public consultation often results in the vocal minority expressing their views.

  1.  There is support for Department of Science within the Business and Industry Section Committee of Royal Statistical Society for the creation of Department of Science, but there needs to be an adequate description of Science which allows for adoption of other scientific subjects beyond solely Physical and Engineering Sciences. Especially when appreciating the importance of scientific endeavour associated with the Service Industry. There is also a danger of separating Science off from application and implementation of findings if there is no close association with Enterprise and Business. There needs to be strengthening of this particular bond, whilst recognising need for fundamental research.

  2.  Formulation of policy is fraught with dangers when "non-scientists" play a major role in development of the policy. There is need for better informed policy making within the context of science and engineering. It should not be solely through limited channels of access and selected key individuals, but from the wider engineering and scientific community. There is a danger of missing opportunities and breakthrough if the gates to policy formulation are too narrowly confined within the scientific community.

  3.  The diversity of the community has to be recognised and there needs to be adequate consultation. The great danger within the community is the cost of "big" science which distorts budgets and means little or no funding for programmes which ultimately may have longer term effect.

  Statistical Sciences have suffered, both from lack of research funding and also from University policies which have been short term. The shortage of trained and qualified statisticians to support science and engineering, as well as government and business, has become far too critical. There is a need to seriously address this issue before the long-term impact damages science and engineering research and other infrastructure. Failure to tackle this issue is a sign of the lack of success in consultation.

  4.  Devolution does mean there are competing agendas set by different political parties taking power. These must naturally reflect the local concerns of the regions and will impact on availability of resources.

  Again the issue is then the contribution to and from the regions of big science. Perhaps there needs to be layers of policy-making that are unified within a framework rather than simply devolving policy to regions.

  5.  Public involvement through consultation is seen by a large number of researchers to be dubious, centred on specific lobby groups and special interests. Whilst governmental science and engineering policy has to gain acceptance generally, it is a fraught area for discussion when faced with some of the lobby groups involved. Views on consultation are changing overtime from naïve views of re-education to involvement, but this does not guarantee sound public involvement. Too often "public engagement" equates to collaboration with those within the public domain who are vocal.

  6.  The review of government science and engineering should be through the community of science and engineering as well as other interest groups such as government itself and business.

January 2009

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