Early career scientists had the opportunity to experience how science interacts with government policy, at Parliament’s annual Voice of the Future event on Tuesday 1st March.
Voice of the Future is organised by the Royal Society of Biology, on behalf of other science membership organisations, including the Geological Society. This year we sent along a delegation of six enthusiastic early career researchers and professional geologists with an interest in policy and government.
The event featured a surprise video broadcast from British astronaut Tim Peake who is currently working with an international team on the International Space Station. His zero-gravity message included responses to a few science policy questions from Nicola Blackwood and Jo Johnson. You can watch the message below:
The day consisted of four sessions featuring different witnesses. In each session, representatives from a wide range of learned societies sat at the horseshoe and questioned members of government and policymakers on topics as wide-ranging as the EU referendum, gender equality in science and open access publishing. The four witness panels were as follows:
Panel 1 – Sir Mark Walport – the Chief Scientific Advisor: his role is to provide scientific advice to the Prime Minister and members of Cabinet, advise the government on
aspects of policy on science and technology and to ensure and improve the quality and use of scientific evidence and advice in government. This role is one of the important ways that science advice is fed into government.
Panel 2 – Nicola Blackwood MP and Chair of the Science and Technology Committee along with several fellow members of the Committee. The Science and Technology Committee is a House of Commons Select Committee whose role is to scrutinise the work of the Government Office for Science and to run inquiries and evidence sessions on pertinent areas of science and technology and their interaction with policy. This committee is one of the truly cross-cutting committees and can examine areas of science and policy that are relevant to several government departments.
Panel 3 – Jo Johnson MP and Minister for Universities and Science. Jo Johnson is the MP for Orpington and became Minister for Science in 2015. This ministerial post is responsible for Higher Education, Science and research and innovate and commerce.
Panel 4 – Yvonne Fovargue MP – Shadow Minister for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). The final witness session of the day was with the Labour Shadow Minister Yvonne Fovargue. Bis covers economic growth, skill, education and important areas for science such as research funding and higher education.
So how did it go?
All of our delegates found the event very informative and agreed that it covered a broad range of topics with a good selection of witnesses. They responded with the following thoughts and reflections:
On the event:
Overall, I think the experience was incredibly valuable for junior researchers and students who want to understand several things: the language used by policymakers in these sorts of forums, the ways in which policy and science interact, how policymakers are engaged with science at multiple different levels and across a range of topic and how parliamentary procedure works through the Committee system’ – Jon Tennant, Palaeontologist
It was interesting, and reassuring, to learn more about the scientific advisers available to the government and in particular the move towards increasing emphasis on evidence-based policy. Some of the most discussed topics on the agenda included the difficulties that might be faced in science both in terms of funding and immigration should Britain leave the EU, and how to encourage improved science communication between the technical community, policy makers, and the public. – Olivia Osicki, Early Career Geologist
On how science policy works in government:
Particularly interesting was the cross-party select committee on science and technology, which demonstrated how politicians from different parties are coming together to understand and advise government on topics as diverse as big data and genetic modification. The video message from Tim Peake from the International Space Station was also a highlight. Overall the event was extremely engaging and a great introduction to policy-making. – Olivia Osicki, Early Career Geologist
This event happens every year, so if you are an early career geologists and interested in attending then get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org or stay tuned for news and updates. You can find out more about the event on the Royal Society of Biology website.