Science and Parliament II

The official aims of the MP-Scientist pairing scheme are

  • To help scientists recognise the potential methods and structures through which they can feed their scientific knowledge to parliamentarians.
  • To help practising research scientists understand the pressures under which MPs operate.
  • To give MPs the opportunity to forge direct links with a network of practising research scientists.
  • To give MPs the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the process of scientific understanding and topical research and ultimately to be able to bring this knowledge into better informed discussions and decision making.

I think the scheme was largely successful in these aims (aside: in the UK, “scheme” doesn’t have the negative connotation that it may have to Americans), although you’ll have to ask the MPs whether they’ve learned more about “the process of scientific understanding and topical research”. I’ve seen the various science committees in action, and although the participants themselves occasionally despaired of their impact on policy, they did seem to feel that government did pay some attention to the results of their enquiries. (But it would be worthwhile studying this in detail, and I hope there are a raft of social scientists on the case.) Certainly I’ve “networked” with a few MPs — and seen how hard they work on both national and local issues. I was particularly impressed with how much time my MP spent working with her constituents on local issues: answering the reams of mail, talking with local reporters, meeting with representatives from local institutions such as Swindon FC and the local branch of the National Museum of Science and Industry.

But, as was mentioned in the comments over at Cosmic Variance, there’s nothing here about money: the Government (which, we certainly learned this week, is not the same thing as Parliament) provides most of the science funding in the UK, and of course many of us were there to understand — and maybe manipulate to our own, pure-as-the-driven-snow, ends — the funding system. Briefly, our research is funded through Research Councils such as, in my case, PPARC, which are part of the Office of Science and Technology, itself part of the Department of Trade and Industry, an arm of the Government; education per se is funded separately.