Applying science can make political policy much more effective

Applying science can make political policy much more effective

by Tony Trewavas
article from Tuesday 6, June, 2017

THERE IS MUCH common ground about supporting science in party manifestoes but with a few exceptions it is mostly motherhood and apple pie. Too often, politicians pay lip service to the use of evidence for policymaking while being guided by political advantage and special-interest lobbying instead. If we want prosperity for all, policies based on hard evidence and objectivity must become the norm.

After reviewing the main party manifestoes I have to say they do not give strong or clear enough commitments to the application of scientific knowledge to policy decisions. To give greater clarity about how science can benefit Britain the Scientific Alliance, which I chair, decided to produce its own.

Amongst the range of policies ‘A Manifesto for Science’ calls for is a re-balancing of power generation and embracing the opportunities of genetic modification, synthetic biology and life sciences. The UK has a strong science and engineering research base and it is vital to nurture that in a post-Brexit world. We need to take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit presents such as reviewing research regulations that hold Britain back.

Energy policy is a mess. Governments have committed themselves to rely increasingly on unreliable renewable energy technologies that increase costs and are not capable of being the basis for a secure power supply. Future policy should focus on a set of realistic, achievable top-level targets, with no preconceptions about how we can best achieve them. New energy sources such as Thorium need to be included and an objective cost-benefit analysis established.

Irrational opposition to genetic modification has been allowed to drive highly skilled jobs in agricultural research overseas. The next government should take the opportunity to encourage new job creation by taking a science-based approach to regulating both genetic modification and the exciting new tools of synthetic biology.

The full manifesto - intentionally kept to one side of A4 is as follows:

A MANIFESTO FOR SCIENCE

The Scientific Alliance believes that generating new knowledge and applying it wisely can continue to improve the prosperity and quality of life for all British citizens while protecting and enhancing the environment. This manifesto has been issued to suggest what steps can be taken by a UK Government to enhance the benefits of scientific discovery and application.

Legislation that is proven to work

  • We support legislation developed from evidence-driven policymaking and believe it is vital policies and legislation should be subject to objective independent post-implementation review to ensure optimum effectiveness and avoid damaging unintended consequences.
  • Policymaking is also likely to be improved by encouraging more trained scientists and engineers to stand for election to both the UK Parliament and national legislatures.

Securing Britain’s advantages in Science

  • Research in science and engineering is a major driver of economic growth and the UK currently has a number of internationally-recognised strengths. The next government should maintain and support the country’s current science base and facilitate its further expansion.
  • It should also take a balanced and objective view on emerging technologies such as gene editing and ensure that their potential benefits are realised by providing appropriate support within a science-based regulatory framework.

Energy

  • An affordable and secure energy supply is vital for a prosperous modern society and this is recognised by all major political parties. The nature of the system that delivers this must not, however, be predetermined by political considerations. Scientists and engineers can deliver national objectives but the public should be fully aware of all costs and environmental impacts.
  • Low energy costs are fundamental to a dynamic modern industrial economy and the overall costs of generating and distributing electricity should be a key consideration when developing a strategy.
  • A sensible way forward would be to set up a truly independent body of experts, led by an eminent and respected chair, with a wide-ranging brief to review the cost, security and carbon-intensity of the system as well as energy efficiency measures – such as insulation – and their broader implications. This body should report its findings and recommendations on how best to achieve the desired outcome to Parliament rather than Government.
  • Given concerns about the operation of the electricity market and well-meaning but misguided proposals for price capping, a similar body should be set up to review all options for governance of the electricity system, also making its recommendations to Parliament.
  • Use of indigenous energy supplies should be encouraged wherever economic and technologically justified. We should, however, also be open to the potential of any and all energy sources, including nuclear fission (and, in future, fusion) and storage technologies to contribute to a secure and affordable supply.

Benefitting from Brexit

  • The Scientific Alliance believes it is important that a post-Brexit agricultural support scheme continues to safeguard the rural environment and economy while facilitating global competitiveness and delivering an acceptable level of food security.
  • Brexit gives the UK a unique chance to review clinical research regulations including genomic editing, murine modelling and accessing new medicines pre Phase 3 trials for self-funders. This would strengthen our position at the forefront of life science research.

 

Professror Tony Trewavas FRS is Chairman of the Scientific Alliance; founded in 2001 it is a non-profit membership-based organisation, based in Cambridge. The Alliance brings together both scientists and non-scientists committed to rational discussion and debate on the challenges facing the environment today.

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