The gap between Science and Policy

Culture clash

bridging the divide between science and policy

Storified by Brian_Condon · Sat, Dec 01 2012 14:43:53

Culture clash – bridging the divide between science and policy | The Institute for GovernmentThis is the first in a series of four seminars looking at ways in which government can make more effective use of scientists and scientific advice to improve policymaking.
• Mark Henderson, author of The Geek Manifesto
• Katrina Williams, Director General for Strategy, Evidence and Consumers, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
• Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Innovation and Science, MP for Newcastle Central
• Professor Rod Smith, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Transport

The session will be chaired by Jill Rutter, Programme Director, Institute for Government.

Our #scipol event with @CSciPol , @SPRU , @sciencewise and Alliance for Useful Evidence is just getting started @instituteforgov
Panel at #scipol
Jill Rutter notes that this is the first of 4 events and the promptest audience ever (someone mutters “that’s scientists for you”)
Checking in at @instituteforgov for their Culture Clash debate with @ChiOnwurah @markgfh Prof Rod Smith and Katrina Williams #scipol
.@jameswilsdon introduces the rest of the #scipol series – see here for more information
Mark Henderson starts by pointing out that there is only one PhD level scientist in Parliament, a few engineers (Chi for example) a few doctors.
so it’s @markghfh first. Qu he’s answering? how can science play more of a role in policy making? #scipol
RT @cath_haddon: At event on how to bridge gap between science and policy. @jillongovt starts with a bit of #geekmanifesto. #scipol
Mark Henderson and Chi Onruwah at #scipol
A key problem is the background of our MPs, says @markgfh. You don’t need to have a scientific background to contribute, but…. #scipol
James Wilsdon’s Twitter PhotoHere’s @markgfh with @ChiOnwurah at first of our events on scientific advice. See @ifgevents & #scipol for live tweets.
Here’s Mark’s blog
The Geek ManifestoOver the past few weeks, it’s been great to see so many positive responses from MPs who’ve received a copy of The Geek Manifesto from a constituent. A fair number are reading it already, with others looking to do so over the summer recess. Here are a few I’ve gathered already.
Henderson: Very difficult to get beyond ~80 MPs who have had direct engagement in science. As result, policy manages science poorly. #scipol
.@markgfh says that very legislators come from science background, similar situation in civil service #scipol
.@markgfh quotes Carl Sagan: "Science is much more than a body of knowledge, it’s a way of thinking" #scipol
An appreciation of science by policy-makers is needed – yet not really evidenced as mostly politicians prefer “policy-based evidence” .
.@markgfh: although government often talks about evidence-based policy, too often we get policy-based evidence #scipol
RT @beck_smith: You can read the report that @markgfh referred to at the start on CSAs on our website: #scipol
CaSE Chief Scientific Advisor ScorecardResponding to a House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into the work of departmental Chief Scientific Advisors (CSA), CaSE has compiled a scorecard to rate the suitability of each current departmental CSA up to September 2011. The scorecard has found "huge inconsistencies in science advice in government".
Science is not just a bunch of knowledge it’s a way of thinking that policy could benefit from says @markjfh #scipol
Henderson says failure to embed scientific evidence in policy making leads to policy errors @instituteforgov #scipol
Henderson: Too little realisation that some of experimental approaches developed in science are applicable to social issues. #scipol
RT @jameswilsdon: Here’s @markgfh with @ChiOnwurah at first of our events on scientific advice. See @ifgevents & #scipol for live tweets. Burall
this is not to say that evidence is always present – eg volcanic ash – when govt needs to act immediately #scipol
key is, says @markgfh, to ensure you learn from how a policy works, even in absence of evidence. #scipol
Henderson: Where not enough evidence, need to approach as natural experiment where collect evidence on the way. #scipol
…but main problem is absence in politics of science as way of thinking – the most reliable way we have – Mark Henderson at #scipol
By saying that evidence is only factor to decide policy, it’s necessary but not sufficient. @markjfh #scipol
scientific evidence is necessary but rarely sufficient for ministers to take evidence, says @markgfh #scipol
we’re now getting the roll call of successes from the last govt from @ChiOnwurah. Chief Scientific Advisors etc etc #scipol
#scipol @ChiOnwurah – Scientific advice in government has got better over the last 15 years. Also mentioned #nuttsack. It’ll never die.
Listening to Chi Onwurah, a black female MP who spent >20yrs as an electrical engineer. Respect. #scipol
#scipol @ChiOnwurah 1 in 10 children play down their scientific background or fear of bullying. Government is the school playground!
@chionruwah at #scipol "there is a clear relationship between what happens in the playground and in government" [laughter]
"Science and engineering must be valued across society" says @ChiOnwurah #scipol
One in five UK girks plays down her ability in maths because it’s not cool 🙁 #scipol
<There is a clear relation between the playground & Government… neither fully values science> says @ChiOnwurah #scipol
All but one of the members of the previous Chinese politburo was an engineer, the other a geologist, says @chiOnwurah #scipol
Chi Onwurah echoes @ProspectUnion concern that Govt Depts don’t know how many scientists or engineers they employ #scipol
Chi Onruwah argues that Parliament would work better and we’d get better government and decisions if we had better engagement by scientists in policy-making – and not just in emergencies.
"We need parliament to have a broader skills base in science and engineering" – also in the Civil Service
Although we aren’t actually turning to the future here, but criticising current practice again. #scipol
.@ChiOnwurah sometimes "a view of scientific research as an eternally pointless exercise" by parl. Shd be seen as "critical friend" #scipol
.@ChiOnwurah says government needs to look to scientists regularly, not just in crises #scipol
RT @sburall: She’s calling for more outrage from scientists/ learned institutions when evidence is abused by politicians. #scipol
Onwurah: Science needs to be critical friend to government. [Calling for more shouting at politicians] #scipol
reflections on transition from Treasury to Defra by @jillongovt. What does a generalist do with evidence from scientists? #scipol
#scipol @ChiOnwurah’s speech just now was great – very perceptive of the current issues, very happy for science if she takes the lead
Now hearing from Katrina Williams from Defra.
Now up, Katrina Williams DG for Strategy, Evidence and Consumers DEFRA. talking about need to get up to speed with scientific advice #scipol
Katrina Williams from @DefraGovUK talks about working with scientists in Defra – as an English graduate #scipol
Williams talking about the importance of relationships with scientists and experts in her past work. #scipol
Her qu, how do policy makers work better with scientists? Her lessons from working with scientists #scipol
Both sides need to give each other permission to ask dumb questions, these are times when most productive discussions happened #scipol
Respect and recognise cultural differences een scientists vs policy makers #scipol
Katrina Williams offering good insights on how a generalist works well with a specialist in #scipol. It can be a culture clash
scientists go at each other really vigorously, in ways policy makers struggle to recognise, #scipol
"Ask the dumb question" – now we’re getting to the scientific method! #scipol
Williams: Need to recognise and respect cultural differences – e.g. the rough and tumble of scientific debate. #scipol
Knowing what questions to ask, and making the questions definitive (sometimes difficult with scientists) is a good way to get at sand advice she argues.
She wants to nail down scientific colleagues to get them to be clear about the question that is being asked #scipol
#scipol Kat Williams: ‘Pure’ scientists and ‘Applied’ scientists are both valuable to the policy making process, in different ways
key question is finding a common language, esp around risk, and developing a way of describing it #scipol
But big difference between govt working better on science in policy versus how science can help politics think about all issues. #scipol
Williams: One area where scientists and policy makers can work really well is about how to describe & communicate risk. #scipol
develop time up front to make sure that you are asking the right question <this is true for #publicengagement too #scipol
Katrina Williams, DG @DefraGovUK: Need to be able to ask each other the "dumb questions", this is where most productive convs occur. #scipol
Interesting to hear Katrina Williams discussing the nexus between scientists, decision makers and the communication of risk #scipol
Good teams will say, you don’t need me, you need this specialist #scipol
Now moving to challenges for the future – starting with resources. Risk is that this makes govt more proscriptive about evi it wants #scipol
Katrina Williams: "Good policy is done by teams, must draw on experiential sources as well as formal sources." #scipol
Katrina Williams speaks while Jill Rutter and Rod Smith listen hard at #scipol
#scipol Katrina highlighted the importance of communicating science – yeah!! Scientists, write, speak, and as Jean Luc says, Engage!
Now Prof. Rod Smith, Chief Scientific Adviser for DfT. #scipol
Now up is Prof Rod Smith – not a scientist but an engineer. What’s the difference he asks us? #scipol
Now Professor Rod Smith, chief scientific adviser from @transportgovuk (although he’s really an engineer) #scipol
Early in his career told, when in doubt ask. this is difficult, but important #scipol
Rod mentions CP Snow’s Two Cultures lecture.
The Two CulturesThe notion that our society, its education system and its intellectual life, is characterized by a split between two cultures–the arts or humanities on one hand, and the sciences on the other–has a long history.
Science used loosely as a term tonight. Need more engineering not science advice because it’s about doing… #scipol
#scipol Rod Smith – We don’t need more scientific advice, we need more engineering advice in policy processes. Wait, what?
Smith: Need more engineering advice in policy, because engineering is about doing things, rather than talking about them. #scipol
#scipol Not sure why it has to be an either/or case for science and engineering. Both valuable in different scenarios. Use where required.
Smith: Went back to read CP Snow from 1959; an era which believed science had helped win the war, great belief in nuclear #scipol
Smith: Breakdown in confidence of science and technology to solve our problems. #scipol
Rod Smith, Chief Sci Adviser to Dep of Transport discusses belief in science as answer to all world’s ills: a "post-war hangover". #scipol
Glad C.P. Snow got a mention. Very nearly mentioned R.V. Jones as well. #scipol why don’t we have initials instead of first names anymore?
Smith: Chief scientists can get it wrong. We need much wider debate. #scipol
Smith: we should extend PPE degrees to Physics and Engineering, we specialise far too early #scipol
#scipol Wow – about half of the audience here are scientists! Great to see so many, and so diverse too 🙂
Professor Rod Smith discussing the benefit of cross-disciplinary intercourse. Good to hear! #scipol
Rod Smith arguing we need broader univ education with a sci component – was tried in 60s but sabotaged by science faculties! #scipol
How many of the non-scientists and engineers can disting een mass and weight? None answer, 1/2 #scipol
2/2 this is CP Snow’s equivalent of being able to read says Smith #scipol
Rod Smith arguing we need broader univ education with a sci component – was tried in 60s but sabotaged by science faculties! #scipol
#scipol Smith says a sci/eng educated public is a major priority. Also what Onwurah said
Rod Smith at @instituteforgov event stimulates the question of if engineers give different sorts of advice to scientists when CSAs #scipol
Smith: We should learn about science & engineering at school, not for careers, but so we can think more critically #scipol
Now talking about natural limits to current transport system and what does society think about this? need all forms evi #scipol
Smith: Big job to involve society in series of questions which answers to could constrain their behaviour. #scipol
Williams – it takes time, having right people in room and finding the right language. #scipol
I just asked at #scipol how policy makers can balance technical evidence, with what the public are saying
#scipol @sburall asks where does the public voice come into all of this? Bloody good question!!
Do scientists need to engineer the policy system so that it can take longer term decisions beyond the electoral cycle #scipol
Interesting question on the downgrading of role of Chief Scientific Advisors in gov. #scipol
Answer: Rod Smith a bit equivocal. Financial downgrade probably most important – could be a factor in getting quality candidates #scipol
Williams: it’s how well-integrated scientists are in policy process that matters, not what grade they are #scipol
Good qu. from @ret_ward about recent letter from @SirBobKerslake endorsing appointment of CSAs below Board level. Lowers status? #scipol
#scipol my qu being reinterpreted to ask how politicians avoid mob rule – also a fair qu and came up in #pasc this morning too.
who’s to blame for scientists and engineers not being involved? Scis and eng’s, if you don’t turn up you can’t be involved, @markgfh #scipol
#scipol I important point about perception of status of science if CSA appointed at lower level from Mark Henderson
"Politics gets done by those who turn up" says Mark Henderson #scipol – and it’s critical that science and technology aware people "turn up"
#scipol key theme of the evening seems to be that problem lies in science not engaging with politics at grassroots level
Can’t see any suggestions how to get scientists to ‘turn up’ to politics more. They hate the idea of being party political. #scipol
RT @Protohedgehog: #scipol @markgfh – Where are the public policy units at other universities? Cambridge has one, why don’t others?? Hi @imperialcollege
And @SciCommForum is coming for them! MT @jlush2: #scipol key theme seems to be problem lies in science not engaging at grassroots level
Most of comments on public engagement in science seem focused on communicating science, rather than having conversation. #scipol
Smith: deplores culture of instant comment, saying we need to stop and find out what’s happening is often the right answer #scipol
.@AdamCommentism I think that’s true, it’s about more scientists in government not politics #scipol
#scipol @AdamCommentism an interesting qu, how important is it to get scientists into govt rather than politics. Not thought about that
.@markgfh drops the Melanie Philip’s stat: she’s been on BBC Question Time more times than all scientists combined. #scipol
.@markgfh: media culture never asks scientists to comment on politics or policy, sense that they are ghettoised in media #scipol
.@ChiOnwurah scientific/engineering institutions need to provide scientists with media training and encourage them to write to MPs #scipol
Quality of debate in House of Commons has sometimes been "frankly embarrassing" says @markgfh; better in Lords but that’s no answer. #scipol
#scipol @markgfh – House of Lords might have more trained scientists than House of Commons, but we can’t leave it at that!
#scipol qu: can scientists be generalists, ie if you’ve got specialist knowledge do you get typecast. <interesting question
Q from audience whether scientists want to raise head above parapet in media or gov influence – cited L’aquila earthquake case. #scipol
#scipol Moving on to the L’Aquila verdict. Seems like geologists are becoming big global players in policy, for one reason or another..
@Protohedgehog but have any geologists, rather than retreating,stood up to say l’Aquila makes them more determined to give advice? #scipol
#scipol "Galileo was put on trial – there’s a long history of it.." argues Rod Smith Chief Scientist Dept for Transport!
Smith: scientists shouldn’t be too worried about L’Aquila case, Italy also put Galileo on trial… #scipol
Rod smith: was serious discussion in gov science circles about L’aquila implications. But think it is outlier and will be fixed. #scipol
Important that scientists shouldn’t be "stuck", good to have an opportunity to be involved in policy making, can be very enriching. #scipol
Williams: we must stop describing people as generalists, instead we need to focus what specialisms people bring #scipol
Some dodgy generalisation from poorly understood cases (eg Italian geologists trial) here – doesn’t seem very scientific 🙂 #scipol
L’aquila case not as simple as anti-science. Issue was how risk was communicated. #scipol
.@chionwurah Clearing up some confusion about the L’Aquila trial, brings up questions about understanding and communicating risk. #scipol
Am sure the L’Aquila scientists are comforted by the historical factoid that Italy also tried Galileo. #scipol
Chi Onruwah makes the point:
‘This idea that being a historian you become a generalist and as a scientist you become a specialist is wrong’ hear hear. #scipol
.@ChiOnwurah: the debates we have in politics should be about values, not underlying evidence #scipol
Point from floor: Good policy making takes into account evidence and values. Problems caused when two are confused. #scipol
Question: neat divide between evidence and values isn’t the right way of handling this debate, need to look at how they interact #scipol
. @chionwurah saying science shouldn’t be boxed as niche. Don’t disagree, but add that historian skills can also be a specialism #scipol
#scipol @beck_smith of @sciencecampaign asks how are disproportionate cuts to dept R&D budgets going to affect evidence-based policy? Bam.
#scipol Very interesting that the over-arching theme seems to be that scientists need to engage more – a supply more than a demand issue?
Williams: ‘randomised control trials’ sound ‘a bit scary’ there’s work to be done in explaining what they are #scipol
#scipol Hideous explanation of why we don’t have more RCTs from Williams – "don’t they sound scary to people?" (Cc @AdamCommentism)
Our work on disproportionate cuts to Govt R&D budget cuts I just asked about can be seen here: #scipol
Government R&D hit by disproportionate cutsWhitehall departments have cut their research and development (RD) budgets disproportionately, a new CaSE investigation has found – despite suggestions that such spending would be protected. Read exclusive coverage in the Financial Times. Government funds science through Research Council grants, and by giving research money to universities through Hefce and its equivalents – two kinds of spending jointly referred to as the Science Budget.
. @chionwurah on science dept spend (& dept spend generally) we only see what they cut, not forecast. So can’t discuss poss impact. #scipol
#scipol Onwurah – I use a lot of my engineering training and skills as a politician. But big shift in terms of work not speaking for itself
Now discussing how different values brought by people to the debate influence their interpretation of evidence and how policy flows from this – interesting point by Mark Henderson.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.