Earlier this month 120 young people masqueraded as members of the House of Commons Science and Technology committee. We were given the unique opportunity to quiz a stellar (in Parliamentary terms) line up on the future of science in Britain.
The signs that we were being taken seriously were good; on a day when his other duties included presiding over Prime Ministers Questions, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, gave an enthusiastic introduction.
The first witnesses before the committee were science and universities minister David Willetts and one of the new departmental chief scientific advisors, Prof John Perkins. It was brave of David Willetts to defend NHS homeopathic remedies in front of such a potentially partisan crowd. However his justification, that homeopaths can vote, is one that any politician is sure to understand. It was also gratifying to hear the minister responsible for science funding quickly cite the Haldane Principal when quizzed on funding priorities. Proof, if it were needed, that David Willetts is a Conservative came when he lamented the absence of large corporations (e.g. Samsung) present in other countries which help to pull technological ideas through from the R&D stage to consumer products.
The next witnesses were the members of the science and technology committee whose usual seats we were occupying. They seemed happy to be witnesses for a change and promised to take some of our suggestions with them on an upcoming ‘away day’.
The last witness was Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for innovation and science. She lambasted the decrease of the science budget in real terms due to inflation and the also the impact of increased tuition fees which she deemed ‘hardly likely to be positive’. The shadow minister promised that under a Labour government science would be a central part of a strategy for growth.
Voice of the Future 2012 was a unique and worthwhile event for all involved. From a young scientists perspective it was great to see politicians taking science seriously and working to keep Britain in its position as a scientific world leader. But, seriously David, homeopathy?
by Philip Ashton, PhD student at the Health Protection Agency
To read more about the MPs’ responses see our Storify of the day