Following the dissolution of Parliament on 30 March the wheels of the various election campaigns are now fully in motion and election promises and party lines abound. Here at the Geological Society we have put together some resources which Fellows and members of the public may find useful when considering the economic and societal importance of geology (and science more widely) in the context of the upcoming election. You can find these on our website: there will also be a short series of blog posts on election-relevant topics, starting with the recent Voice of the Future event!
Voice of the Future
Now in its 4th year, Voice of the Future is an event hosted by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee which this year took place on 4 March at Portcullis House in Westminster.
Just a bit of background on the Select Committees and their work: a select committee is made up of parliamentary members, around 10-20 in number and they are appointed to scrutinize particular areas of the Government’s work. The committee’s main role is to investigate and collect data and evidence on a given issue and report on their findings, this occurs in the form of inquiries on specific areas of work. For example the Geological Society often responds to inquiries and consultations carried out by this committee – see our Consultations page for examples of recent responses. The Science and Technology Select Committee has a remit to examine the work of the Government Office for Science, which translates into a variety of topics.
The committee, in collaboration with the Society of Biology , on behalf of a number or Learned Societies including the Geological Society, organised the event to promote engagement with young scientists, engineers and researchers about the issues that matter to them. The layout of the event is similar to a Committee evidence session except that the scientists sit in the horseshoe where the committee would normally sit and they question the committee in the witness seats on issues of their choice. This is designed to give young scientists and researchers a taste of how the Parliament and Government functions and just one of the ways that scientific evidence can feed into policy making.
Young scientists from a variety of different research areas were invited to the event and to submit questions to the committee. The questions were then divided among the 4 panels that were arranged for the day. Questions to the committee were on wide-ranging topics such as science and the media, reforms on the practical element of science A levels and GCSEs, understanding of risk, science spending, international development and women in STEM.
Panel 1 – Professor Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser
Panel 2 – Members of Parliament on the Science and Technology Select Committee
Panel 3 – Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)
Panel 4 – Rt Hon Greg Clark MP (Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities)
The Geological Society put forward 3 young Geoscience PhD students to represent the Society, we caught up with 2 of them about their thoughts on the day. Firstly from Emily White, a PhD student studying greenhouse emissions at the University of Bristol:
I was excited to attend Voice of the Future because for a while I’ve been interested in learning more about how politics and policy works, and where better than in the House of Commons itself! I think it is important to engage with these things as a scientist, especially if your field, like mine, clearly has implications for decision-making.
And when it comes to continuing to engage with policy Emily added:
What I got most out of the day was a much better understanding of ways in which scientists should get involved with politics. For example how important it is to communicate with your local MP, both about how your own research affects society and about the decisions being made in parliament that affect science policy. We also heard about how scientists can get involved in the political process by submitting a response to the Science and Technology Select Committee’s call for information before they finalise a report on a particular topic. I felt that the MPs present were really encouraging us as young scientists to be aware of these different channels of communication and to use them if we felt we had something to say.
And secondly from Hazel Gibson, an interdisciplinary PhD Student at Plymouth studying geology, cognition and communication:
Firstly, and this has to be said right off the bat, it is an election year and as such the focus of all of the MPs was on the forthcoming General Election. What was interesting to me, was how much some MPs (particularly Liam Byrne) were able to put this aside and not use the time for party political grandstanding, but to actually answer our questions. The question I was assigned (questions were designated from participant submissions although they were not all matched with the person who submitted the question), about investment in the UK for research and innovation, was a pretty broad question to answer, but many of the questions around gender in science, international students, investment in the knowledge economy and the place of science in politics were very interesting. One of the things that I learnt and was surprised by was that most of the ‘actual’ politics seems to be done by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, whose elected chair, Andrew Miller used to work as a geology technician! The noticeable feature of the Select Committee was that all members seemed to put their Party politics to one side and focus on action – they were very positive about the future of science in the UK and wanted to work together to make it happen. The final message from all the MPs was ‘tell us your science’, so make sure you speak up in this election and get your science front and centre with your local MP.
You can read more about Hazel’s work and her experience at Voice of the Future on her blog.