“Hearing and Being Heard”

A very interesting report was published during the summer holidays!  Sciencewise commissioned Ipsos MORI to carry out research into the public’s views of emerging areas of policy involving science and technology. 30 issues were identified through a process of consultation with experts involved in policy making and science and technology at a workshop run by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy.

Participants of the workshops created a grid showing how important they thought each issue was, relative to others. On the vertical axis, they showed how high a priority they thought each issue should be for the UK government, and on the horizontal axis they showed how high a priority it should be for the public to have involvement in policy-making related to the issue.


In the report each of the 30 issues was analysed but what I found most interesting was the concluding section which included the following:

The way the public responded to the issues we showed them highlights some of the challenges for engaging the public with emergent science and technology issues. Sciencewise and others should now consider how to address these issues.

    • How to deal with multi-stakeholder, multi-layered issues? We know the public are interested in learning about the more complex issues that do not sit with only one department or policy stream; government stakeholders should work beyond internal silos to engage the public in shared dialogue processes.
    • Issues in dialogue must be framed so they are relevant to the public but without oversimplifying. This project, like others, underlines the need for stimulus and framing materials which enhance specificity, urgency, relevance to individuals in the UK as well as educating participants about risk and uncertainty. It may be a challenge to deal with the issues which are high risk and far off – is there a role for more explicit horizon scanning and scenario planning exercises within public dialogue?
    • Dialogues about how to engage the public with risk and uncertainty. Can we find out more about how people want to engage with ‘wicked’ problems? Some issues contain a “lack of consensus on fundamental facts or judgements” – what would a public, educated about this phenomenon, say about the issues?
    • Dialogues about how values are formed. We need to find out more about underlying tensions in dialogue, for example the range of views on individual rights vs collective responsibilities. A dialogue on the underlying issue of personal freedoms versus responsibilities, as this relates to science, taking in a range of different scientific or technological advances as stimulus, might be fruitful. Can we find out how the public feel these values should bear on decision making in science?
    • Different engagement for different times in the policy cycle. Do we need engagement on how policy is to be implemented (‘Keeping the lights on’)? Or on the moral and ethical level about the principles which should drive policy – (‘Rising costs of healthcare’)? Dialogue should take place at the point where participants can see it their input will have a certain effect.
    • Tackling cynicism. In this dialogue participants emphasised that their involvement was conditional on it making a difference to policy; but they did not really believe such difference would happen. The differences dialogue can make are subtle, nuanced and long-term but policymakers need to communicate what the dialogue achieved. Also, participants were keen to know that their view would not be ‘outweighed’ in the decision process by voices of vested interests. Those running dialogues should explain how the views of the public are balanced with the views of other stakeholders in decision making.

How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation

How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation
Academics need to look at different ways they can communicate their research to policymakers, says Matthew Goodwin –here’s his advice on not wasting their time, or yours.

UPDATEExperts and experimental government [5/4/2013, GUARDIAN]

The idea of giving a clever man a desk in Whitehall is outdated, argues Geoff Mulgan in the third of our series on scientific advice. We need to take seriously the evidence about evidence

NERC Booklet updated: Science into policy – Taking part in the process

This booklet aims to help NERC staff and NERC-funded scientists to:
– recognise the relevance of their science to policymakers and engage with science-to-policy activities from the outset;
– Identify opportunities, routes and best practice to inform policy-making, including opportunities to feed into NERC’s corporate science-to-policy activities;
– communicate science in an appropriate and accessible way, to the right policy-makers, showing how it fits their needs.
We have used case studies to illustrate the different approaches described, and drawn out reasons for success, where appropriate, as learning points.

Beautiful booklet by UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) advising how scientists can help shape public policy.

Science Is Vital strikes again

Yesterday a letter was sent to The Telegraph by the Science Is Vital campaign.

This was accompanied by an article in the same newspaper “Spend more on science or fall behind G8” by Stephen Adams.

And another article was written in the Guardian “Science funding: time to reverse the decline” by three founders of the Science Is Vital campaign, Jenny Rohn, Stephen Curry and Richard P Grant.

Finally, see article on the campaign website for data.

Please also see a recent Guardian article “Does the UK need to spend more on basic research?” by Kieron Flanagan

Making the most of scientists and engineers in government and Beddington’s legacy

In the UK, the Government Office for Science conducted a review to provide information about the current state of the the Government Science and Engineering (GSE) community, propose a vision for the future of the profession and highlight priorities for action. You can find the report here:

The future of the Civil Service: Making the most of scientists and engineers in government

You can find more information on this report here.

You should also read today’s article in the guardian by the outgoing UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington. There is also an interview of Sir Beddington at the Civil Service World website.

And if you want to read an opinion on his legacy, Research Fortnight has written an article on him.

UPDATE: new article by  on the issue of a Chief Social Scientist (15/03/2013) – with interesting video from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee session.

UPDATE2: Prof Sir John Beddington warns of floods, droughts and storms here (25/03/2013).

UPDATE3: In praise of … John Beddington at the Guardian (26/03/2013). 

Consumer debt and mental health

[I recently applied for a job for which I had to produce a report on consumer debt and mental health. Even though I did not get the job, I did spent sometime to look over the issue so I am posting the report here.]

Consumer debt and mental health
Evidence has shown a clear association between consumer debt and mental health. Given the current financial crisis, extra measures are needed in order to deal with people affected. This note considers the published evidence on the above relationship, examines the current regulations and suggests what policies should be implemented in order to ensure that sensitive approaches are adopted for the benefit of the consumers, the health and social carers, and creditors.
·      There are clear links between consumer debt affecting mental health, and vice versa, even if the direction of causality has not been yet verified. Continue reading

Science and Society: My analysis of the Eurobarometer (1)

So I finally finished gathering my data and did my plots. Before I get into specifics about what exactly did the Greek sample say, I want to mention four things that I found striking:

  1. there was significantly more emphasis in the Greek answers: Even though, in most questions their beliefs appear to be similar to those of other Europeans, their answers were more “emphatic” i.e. their answers were less divided compared to other EU countries. I noticed this by eye, and in an effort to “quantify” it, I ranked all European countries according to their responses using the graph charts presented in the Eurobarometer report. In these graphs, the countries were plotted in descending order, according to the value of the majority and minority percentages in those questions. The country on the far left was thus ranked “1” since it showed the greatest majority percentage. Similarly the country on the far right was ranked “28” (the average of all 27 EU countries was included in the ranking).

In the following graph I present the distribution of rankings of the EU27 average:

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Homeopathy :-S

One could say that in this blog, I focus too much on UK science policy news, or generally UK science-related events, trends etc. I have to admit, I find them a tiny bit easier to understand, given that I did all my studying in the UK. But there is another reason why I focus on the UK. I am still a bit scared to look at what is happening in Greece.

Probably in 2002, as a naive 2nd year undergraduate, right in the middle of my tree-hugging phase, I looked online to find out what my government’s views were on GM. I was against GM back then, so I was happy to read that the Greek government was too. However, the reality was very different. Since the government did very little to control GM crops, there were many GM fields in Greece. If I remember correctly, they had to burn huge areas when they found out about them, in order to show they were truly against GM. I was very disappointed to say the least.

My problem with science policy issues – e.g. libel law, abortion, animal rights, MMR, homeopathy, etc – is that I have huge gaps in my knowledge, since I only recently started to be interested in them. I have no idea what are the facts, what are the arguments for and against, for many of these issues. Immersed in my world of theoretical genomics, I did not really pay attention when I was in the UK. This was a good thing in a way, because I managed to get my PhD very young, but on the other hand, I now feel completely overwhelmed. Don’t worry, you might say, there is plenty of time. You are right.

Homeopathy is one of the issues I know nothing about in terms of policy. I have met people of course that use it regularly, but i have no idea what is going on exactly with doctor certification, government expenditure, etc.

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