Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Novartis


  1.  Novartis' contribution to the Science and Technology Select Committee's Inquiry into the impact of the 1993 White Paper "Realising our potential. A strategy for science, engineering and technology", focuses on the understanding of science amongst school children and the public.

  2.  Novartis is a world leader in healthcare with core businesses in pharmaceuticals, consumer health, generics, eye-care and animal health. Novartis is committed to improving health and well-being through innovative products and services. As a pioneer of research into the emerging technologies such as biotechnology and genomics, Novartis is committed to engaging society in a dialogue concerning benefits and the potential risks of scientific advancement in an open and frank manner.

  3.  In particular, we would like to respond to the question of how education can spread an understanding of science amongst school children and the public. We believe that it is the responsibility of scientists, research establishments, governments and NGOs, as well as companies like Novartis, to engage the public in a dialogue about scientific innovation. To this end, Novartis is engaged in a series of activities to enthuse and engage people about scientific development and innovation. These are explored in more detail below.


  4.  Public attitudes towards science and scientists are formed through a combination of personal contact and general experience. Those who have seen a life saved by an organ transplant or a treatment for schizophrenia, marvel at these achievements of modern science and hope for more. Much of what science has given to us, and that we benefit from in everyday life, is taken for granted. However, the disillusionment with science that has become more apparent over the last two decades comes from a variety of sources: major incidents at Seveso, Bhopal, Chernobyl, the greenhouse effect, the hole in the ozone layer and more local events such as BSE which have made it impossible for the public to view science in a measured/balanced manner; at the same time, the public are less able to engage critically with issues of science, particularly in understanding risks and benefits, because of insufficient and dated science education.

  5.  In recent years there have been numerous projects relating to public attitudes towards science. Most of the recommendations of the Bodmer report on the public understanding of science published in 1985 have been successfully implemented. These have led to newer initiatives and activities undertaken by COPUS, professional bodies, trade associations, individual companies and special interest groups. Some, such as SET week, have been aimed at the public in general, while others such as Satis (Gatsby Trust) have been more directed towards schools. Whilst many of these have been considered successful, there is not much evidence to suggest that they have been effective or have provided value. The independent evaluation carried out of SET98 revealed some disappointing aspects. However, these initiatives have not led to evidence that the public is better able to handle issues and arguments around science. Neither have they seemed able to encourage more or better suited young people to enter higher education in the science fields.

  6.  Influencing public attitudes towards science is a long-term commitment. Not only is it important that there is an appropriate focus for various groups such as teachers, pupils, students, politicians and civil servants, business leaders and the general public, but it is important that the input is of the highest quality.


  7.  Novartis is involved in a number of initiatives with schools to promote the understanding of science. For example:

    —  Novartis Webcast: As part of our commitment to the use of innovative ways of teaching and learning about science, Novartis is hosting a "Science Webcast" of two scientific experiments, live over the internet, later on this year. The webcast will carry out two experiments of relevance to the A-level curriculum. Scientists will carry out the experiments, which will be transmitted live over the internet into school classrooms throughout the country. As far as we can ascertain, this is the first initiative of its kind in the UK and we hope that the-lesson will pave the way for similar "remote" learning to be used in the future.

    —  Salters' Festival of Chemistry: The Salter's Chemistry Club was established to encourage youngsters to become involved in chemistry and also help to develop a more scientifically literate community. The Club's main objective is to make chemistry more visible, more interesting and attractive to 11-14 year old pupils by creating a network of Chemistry Clubs in schools which are linked into local companies and universities. The UK could see a shortage of high calibre chemists in the next 5-10 years, which would have far-reaching implications for the future of the science base in the UK. Salters Chemistry Clubs go some way to tackling this problem. The Festival has proved to be very popular and this year each school was given a £100 start-up grant and asked to design a set of experiments around a theme to demonstrate at the Festival. All students taking part received a certificate that they can add to their National Record of Achievement. Novartis sponsored this year's regional final in Brighton.

    —  Scientists for a Day: A-level students put on white coats and protective glasses to spend a day in the labs at Novartis Horsham Research Centre (NHRC). Chemistry and biology students from local schools were invited to be "Scientists for a Day" on 31 March and 1 February as part of the annual "Young Scientists Days" run in Horsham.

    The students did practical work and talked about the principles of drug research and development.

    Julia Hatto, from the NHRC says,

    "We've had younger pupils this year as they have more time to make the right choices should they opt for a career in science. The experience gives them a unique insight into the day to day work of a world-leading research centre".

    —  Novartis Community Partnership Day: Each year, Novartis employees around the world volunteer for community work. In 1999, in the UK the themes of education and environment were used. In the educational projects, research scientists put their skills to use in schools, teaching children about science and encouraging the next generation of innovators. At the Novartis Horsham Research Centre, for example, school children were invited in to explore the world of atoms and molecules and pupils were given the opportunity to conduct hand-on experiments.


  8.  Novartis is involved in the running of a photographic competition via the pages of the Daily Telegraph, launched on 31 May 2000. The aim is to help develop public interest in science and its positive influence on our lives through photographs.

  9.  The competition, supported by the Royal Society, is open to amateurs, professionals, and scientists, and the photographs can cover any aspect of science whether it be biology, medicine, physics, chemistry, technology, engineering or mathematics.


  10.  Creating Sparks is a unique and ambitious national festival to be held in South Kensington throughout September 2000. It represents a high profile collaboration of the Sciences and the Arts and will be led by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

  11.  Novartis is involved in the sponsorship of Performing Science, which will form part of the festival. Performing Science will be performed by the Y Touring Theatre Company who aim to create high quality theatre and drama that highlight current issues for a teenage (or adult) audience to engage with.

  12.  Performing Science will be a stimulating piece and the programme consists of a theatre performance, a discussion workshop afterwards and an education pack.

30 May 2000

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