Submission from Dr Paul Marchant, Leeds
Science should most certainly be
at the heart of Government policy. A Department for
Science could be useful in promoting science. Science
needs to be rigorous rather than just look "scientific".
1. I fully support the proposition that
science should be at the heart of government policy. A Department
for Science promoting science could be useful in encouraging a
scientific outlook in society at large. (A Department for Science
should not try to firmly control the country's scientific activity
2. Throughout my writing I use "science"
to mean rigorous scientific thinking based on well collected data
(rather than any particular set of facts derived from scientific
3. The key point is that the scientific
process needs to be rigorous. There is an ever present danger
that the language of science is utilised for "spin"
(ie PR, advertising, lobbying) when in fact the underpinning reasoning
and/or data is flawed. That is the "the science brand"
can be invoked to push a particular cause even when the underpinning
is unscientific. Statistical reasoning needs to be thorough and
conflicts of interest need to be minimised. In addition to good
quality research we also need transparency about how research
is commissioned and undertaken, and by whom.
4. I made a submission to a forerunner of
the present DIUS committee, the Science and Technology Select
Committee, in 2003 in its investigation on Light Pollution
and Astronomy. I was pleased that the Committee agreed with my
sceptical view on the claim that lighting is required to reduce
crime. The Committee's Report stated "the correlation between
lighting and crime is not conclusive" (Para 74 p27 of
HC747-1) by looking at the data and reasoning behind the claim
promoted by industry.
5. The issue of the relationship between
lighting and crime illustrates the nature of scientific evidence.
Assertions on this subject tend to have been made on a poor scientific
basis. I submitted evidence to the Science Review of the Home
Office and the Ministry of Justice, by the Government Office for
Science, on experiencing weaknesses. See my written evidence www.berr.gov.uk/files/file44678.doc
. (It is worrying however that the lighting claim is still made
by proponents in spite of poor method and data.)
6. My piece (Chapter 7) in the Proceedings
of the 6th European Dark-Skies Symposium http://www.britastro.org/dark-skies/cfds2006/proceedings.pdf
also gives some points on how conclusions of research can be made
more secure and threats to the integrity of science may be reduced.
7. It has been alleged that some of the
key work claiming that lighting reduces crime was undertaken and
also commissioned by the wife of the director, major shareholder
and CEO of a major street lighting company and that the perceived
conflict of interest was hidden, even when she was working on
the issue as a civil servant (Private Eye, "Conflicts
of Interest: Let there be light", Issue No. 1142, p28, 30th
September 2005.) Clearly activity such as this, if it occurs,
undermines science and confidence in it.
8. I use lighting and crime as an example
as it is an area which I have investigated and something which
some members of the DIUS Committee have previously looked at,
but the general point about the importance of rigorous scientific
work to establish trustworthy outcomes will apply to all areas
of policy formation and implementation.
9. Major consequences and large sums of
money can hang on the outcomes of research so we need to be sure
that we have proper science and not material which merely looks
scientific, at the detriment of society at large. Hopefully a
Department for Science would press for sound science being employed
throughout all policy areas.
10. I have not written explicitly about
engineering as my main point is to encourage the rigour of sound
scientific thinking. I do however support encouragement for engineering,
as the practise of the discipline involves scientific thinking.
Also making "things that work" is worthwhile in itself.