|Dr Stuart Gilfillan, right, with Ian Murray MP at Westminster|
University scientists will swap lab coats for legislation when they visit the House of Commons for a week.
Their visit takes place as part of a pairing scheme run by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science. During their stay, researchers will shadow MPs or civil servants and learn about their work. They will also attend Prime Minister’s Question Time and meet Professor David MacKay, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
The visit will provide a behind-the-scenes insight into how science policy is formed as well as an understanding of the working life of politicians. Taking part is Dr Stuart Gilfillan, of the School of GeoSciences, who will be partnered with Ian Murray MP. Professor Andrew Millar, of the School of Biological Sciences, is being paired with civil servant Steven Lovegrove, Permanent Secretary of DECC.
Dr Gilfillan said:
I hope to gain a unique insight into the detailed workings of the UK Parliament and its difficult role in creating, assessing and enabling government policy in controversial areas, such as energy provision and climate change mitigation.
It is clear that there is considerable frustration from scientists regarding policy formation in certain areas, and equal frustration from politicians that there is never a definitive answer on a particular topic from scientists. Through participation in this scheme I hope to be able to understand how, as scientists, we can communicate our findings and uncertainties in a more meaningful way to help politicians make better informed policy-making decisions.”
Prof Millar said:
Researchers need to engage with governance, and I’m very grateful to the Royal Society and to our hosts at DECC for arranging this opportunity to learn how that interaction works at Westminster. I also look forward to the Permanent Secretary's return visit, when we can show him some of the ground-breaking research and education at the university.”
The initiative aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK. It is intended as an opportunity for MPs to become better informed about science issues and for scientists to understand how they can influence science policy. More than 200 pairs of scientists and MPs have taken part in the scheme since it was launched in 2001.
Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society said:
MPs and scientists have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making.”
This article was first published on 29 November 2013 on the University of Edinburgh's news page