Liberal Democrats May Discuss A U.K. Office of Science Responsibility

The Campaign for Science and Engineering noted that a prominent Liberal Democrat has issued a policy paper on science and technology.  MP Julian Huppert, whose constituency includes Cambridge (where he was a research scientist), has issued the first Liberal Democrat dedicated paper on science policies in over twenty years, in advance of its fall party conference.

As a point of comparison, major parties in the U.K. have annual party conferences where positions on major issues are discussed and debated.  U.S. parties typically wait for their Presidential nominating conventions to finalize a new platform.  While this Liberal Democrat paper is a rarity in the U.K., such substantive discussion in or in advance of a U.S. party’s convention is as rare as discovering a new species.

The paper is quite comprehensive, much more than any language on science, technology or innovation you’re likely to see an elected official utter this year in the U.S.  What prompted my interest comes at paragraph 111 (would page numbers have been such a hassle?):

“111.We would establish an independent Office of Science Responsibility, which would be responsible for oversight of the use of evidence-based policymaking by departments. It would not be expected to disagree on policy decisions, but to comment on the use of misleading or inaccurate evidence, following from the model of the Office of National Statistics.”

Between the brevity of the proposal and my lack of familiarity with the Office of National Statistics, I can only speculate as to what Dr. Huppert has in mind.  I think he envisions a system whereby this Office of Science Responsibility would outline standards and best practices for the use of scientific evidence in policymaking.  Perhaps this office would also provide its mark to those uses of scientific evidence that the office determines meets its standards.

I emphasize that this office “would not be expected to disagree on policy decisions” but to assess the use of scientific evidence in policymaking.  Some may bristle at this, but scientific advice must not mean scientific determination.  I have no idea how successful Huppert will be in advancing his proposals, and given the Liberal Democrat party’s status in U.K. politics, these issues will remain a small part of the larger political landscape.

To take a step back, to look at the entirety of the paper, we have an elected official attempting to have a science policy conversation with his political colleagues.  Sure, he’s a scientist, but he’s not having this conversation with scientists.  We need more of this, regardless of the effectiveness of the conversation during the party conference.

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3 thoughts on “Liberal Democrats May Discuss A U.K. Office of Science Responsibility

  1. Of course it’s rarely the case that any statement in politics is addressed to just one audience and I doubt whether this proposed policy is any exception. Leading Liberal Democrats carefully cultivated the votes of scientists prior to the last general election with much the same kind of stuff. Of course any scientists who actually voted Lib Dem as a result of all that stroking got science cuts, a tripling of university tuition fees and a Government which is regularly censured for misuse of evidence by the UK Statistics Authority* in return.

    I would be very surprised if the same trick were to work twice but, hey, you never know.

    *Incidentally, I think that the UK Statistics Authority must be the watchdog to whom Huppert is referring when he says Office of National Statistics:

    http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/

  2. Kieron,

    Thanks. Insight from those much closer to the action is always appreciated.

    Are there any instances of Statistics Authority censure that had consequences of lasting impact?

  3. Pingback: Official Canadian Opposition Seeks Input On National Science (Funding) Policy « Pasco Phronesis

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