• Question: Do you think that the government's understanding of science is adequate? If you were in charge, what would you do differently?

    Asked by bolzanoweierstrass to James, Marcus, Martin, Rob, Suzanne on 19 Mar 2012. This question was also asked by bows123.
    • Photo: Martin Zaltz Austwick

      Martin Zaltz Austwick answered on 19 Mar 2012:

      I think a lot of people in government don’t have much experience in science, which is a problem. But also, a lot of people in the UK don’t have much understanding in science, which is a problem if they are voting for people based on their scientific plans. But no-one knows everything about science – I only know about bits of it – so how do you make sure everyone knows enough to make good decisions? In recent years, people have realised that it’s quite annoying for scientists to just tell people things and show how smart they are, and they should do a bit more listening and having conversations rather than just talking. Which is where things like “I’m a Scientist” come in!

    • Photo: Suzanne McEndoo

      Suzanne McEndoo answered on 19 Mar 2012:

      I would say flat out no. There are people in the government who do understand, but most of them don’t have enough of a background or interest in science. For some stuff this doesn’t matter, but for things like medicine (NHS, etc), climate change, nuclear power and alternative power, understanding the science is important for making good decisions.

      I think if I was in charge, I would put a lot of effort into making sure people were as informed as possible. A lot of that work should be (and is being) done on the scientist side, making sure we take the time to talk to people, explain what’s going on and really get into conversations about these things. I would encourage this more by a) making sure all scientists know how important and valued this work is (it is important now, but it’s not always valued) and b) making sure that scientists have the time to do this work.

      On the other hand, it’s important for the people making decisions to recognise the importance of a good understanding of science. Maybe we’d have to start parliamentary sessions with short science lectures!

    • Photo: Marcus Gallagher-Jones

      Marcus Gallagher-Jones answered on 20 Mar 2012:

      Most definately no. The governmant does have consultant scientists to help them inform decisions on scientific issues but the problem is that a lot of the time they are dismissed or ignored. The biggest problem is, as the others have mentioned, the classic disconnection between science and society.

      There needs to be a better connection between the general public and people at the front of research. I think if the people are more informed on scientific issues in general. Part of this for me would be the reporting of science. Science journalism has stagnated a lot in recent years. Stories that are easily sensationalised or perceived to be interesting are the only ones that get published and they are very rarely written by people with a scientific background.

      I think ensuring everyone in society is better informed of the facts of scientific issues would be a big step towards making good decisions in scientific policy. For that a large part of the wrk really needs to come from the scientists as I believe the general public are much more willing to listen than we think.