Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency

  The Environment Agency welcomes the opportunity of providing written evidence to the Science and Technology inquiry into Government Funding of the Scientific Learned Societies.

  We would like to emphasise the importance of the independent role of these societies, particularly when scientific advice and opinion is required by Parliament and Government. Their independence and international standing is key when expert inquiries are held, as illustrated recently by the Royal Society inquiry on Infectious Diseases in Livestock. Funding should be both sufficient and secure to ensure the structures remain truly independent; with robust funding they can continue to act as an independent source of scientific scrutiny of Government.

  It would be inappropriate for the Royal Society to focus unduly on applied science. We need a balance of scientific inquiry, and blue skies research is equally important as applied. An example has been work on extreme value theory, as presented at a recent Royal Society meeting, which is "pure" science, but also very relevant to managing flood risk. However, it should be recognised that the science elite represented in the Royal Society are not always as well integrated as they might be into the industrial cutting edge at which science is being applied in practice.

  We recognise the value of the Royal Society Fellowships as an alternative source of funding for our brightest young scientists, and would wish to see a good proportion of these allocated in research areas relevant to environmental protection.

  Historically, the ability of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to communicate with the public has been limited. It is recognised that the Royal Society has developed a communicating science programme, which although early in its development, appears well thought out and a good way to progress. The role of the societies in communicating to the public in relation to that of other bodies needs to be carefully considered.

March 2002

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