From lab bench to green bench
Two University of Oxford researchers swapped lab coats for legislation when they paired up with two members of parliament who are key to decisions about science in the UK.
Dr Jessica Ash, from the University’s Department of Psychiatry visited MP George Freeman, the life sciences minister, at the House of Commons for a week in Westminster. At the same time, Dr Matthew Levy, from the Department of Physics, was hosted by Oxford MP and commons science and technology committee chair Nicola Blackwood.
Both scientists are taking part in a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science, with support from the Government Office for Science.
During their visits, the pair shadow the MPs and learnt about their work. As well as attending seminars and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policy making, they also attended a mock Select Committee.
The visits aim is to provide them with a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how their research can be used to make evidence based decisions. It will also give the MPs the opportunity to investigate the science behind their decisions and improve their access to scientific evidence.
The week began with a reception in parliament where Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Science and Universities, spoke about the value of UK research and the important role of scientific advice in parliament. Nicola Blackwood also spoke about her committee’s plans to investigate the evidence underpinning Government policies.
Jessica Ash said: ‘My interests lie in the next wave of disease prevention by integrating personal technology into the fabric of everyday life to promote sustainable communities of health. I am very fortunate to pair with George Freeman, who shares many of the same goals in using technology to improve lives. It is critical that scientists and politicians keep open lines of communication to inform policy and decisions that ultimately improve public health.’
Matthew Levy said: ‘Working with Nicola Blackwood in her roles as Chairperson of the Science and Technology Select Committee and MP for Oxford West will allow me to better understand the workings of science policy in the UK. I am excited for that for so many reasons. For one, the high energy density physics research we carry out in the University of Oxford is world-class, and I believe we can develop those advantages further by working to align science and policy. And for another, because it will allow us to identify productive ways to work together with the US, strengthening our cultural and historical connections, and accelerating innovation and science.’
The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK.
George Freeman and Nicola Blackwood will get hands on experience of Oxford research when they visit Jessica and Matthew at the University of Oxford next year.
Dr Julie Maxton, Executive Director of the Royal Society, said: ‘Our world faces challenges that can only be addressed with a solid understanding of science. From climate change mitigation and adaptation to GM regulation, policy makers must make decisions about issues which will affect the lives of all those in the UK, and often, the global community. We must rely on them to make sound decisions based on the best available evidence when tackling these complex issues.
‘Scientists and policy makers have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making. The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, now in its 15th year, provides an opportunity for MPs and scientists to build long term relationships to make the best evidence and scientific advice increasingly accessible. The shaping of public policy can only improve over time as these relationships continue to grow.’