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  • Writer's pictureJuna Sathian

Good Science in Politics

'Good quality policy making depends on high quality information, derived from a variety of sources - expert knowledge; existing domestic and international research; existing statistics; stakeholder consultation; evaluation of previous policies ...' (UK Cabinet Office, 1999: ch. 7).

Sending unclear messages which are scientifically not competent is what we have seen these days. This obscurity is undermining the UK's world-class reputation for research and innovation. This is also evident from the new initiative to create a science research agency, Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) modelled on the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the US. With ARIA there are concerns since there is still a lack of clarity on its focus and purpose and its relationship with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

According to policy theories, policymaking is characterised by bounded rationality, in which policymakers can only pay attention to a tiny proportion of issues and information. However, a diverse and inclusive team enhances excellence and aids in approaching problems more effectively. But, to my surprise, the current government's scientific advisors are more likely to be from London and the South of England rather than from the North, Midlands or other constituent parts of the UK.

Excellent scientific advice regarding quality is how Scientists for Labour (SfL) influence science policy issues within the wider Labour Party. At SfL, we are working with our elected representatives and providing them with the most up-to-date and accurate information. Creating networks or specific working groups for scientific advice ensures a system exists that is ready to respond in emergencies, such as the COVID-19 crisis. At SfL under our branch framework we hope to help facilitate a way towards a more inclusive and equitable scientific environment. Each branch will be unique in its scientific expertise and regional issues. There may be key scientific experts as well as social scholars of science, supporters of alternative scientific policies, and critics of those same policies elsewhere. At the branch level, one can form target working group/s, a community of SfL members with a shared interest in a particular scientific area allowing members to connect and share knowledge and ideas. This is to benefit most from the diverse breadth of expertise and experience within the SfL membership. This diversity will certainly bring variation in the content of reports, briefings, and blog posts, and promote equal representation. If we think about the 648 Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), that would mean 648 reports in the SfL database. The aim is to make this available to MPs, Councillors, Mayors, and any other Labour representatives.

Scientists and policymakers will often have different goals, so there should always be a link between them to enable collaborative working. In a 2020 open letter SfL asked for the appointment of a Cabinet Level Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation. This is important to fit our work developing the branches/regional networks and the target working groups to inform science policy decisions. A Cabinet Level Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation can act as a point of contact to feed our expert opinion to influence evidence-based policymaking. This will ensure that we practice good science in politics!

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