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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 698-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Science and Technology Committee
EU Chief Scientific Adviser
Monday 29 October 2012
Professor Anne Glover
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 45
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Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Monday 29 October 2012
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witness
Witness: Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser, European Commission, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Professor Glover, I welcome you to our hearing. We are particularly pleased that you are able to join us. You will have noticed that there are a considerable number of people sitting behind you, not all of whom came with you. It is not normal for the Chair to refer to the audience, but I particularly welcome the people from the Royal Society Parliamentary Pairing Scheme who are here today and of course the other people here.
Professor Glover, you are aware that we often work in areas that spill over into your area of responsibility. We have just had a statement on the Floor of the House about ash trees. As a Committee, we are just about to publish our report on medical implants, which have a European regulatory structure at the centre of them. We thought it was particularly important that we should invite you to come and see us.
First of all, can I ask you what you hope to achieve during your time as CSA?
Professor Glover: I started as CSA and was the first person to take up that post in the European Commission in January of this year. I will finish at the end of 2014; so I have three years. I will start off in a slightly light-hearted way. I would say that in the first week or two at the European Commission I set myself the target that at the end of two weeks I would understand how the Commission worked. I now realise that if I can understand part of it by the end of 2014 I’ll be very lucky. There is a lot involved in understanding procedure and how the Commission and Parliament works, and that, in itself, has an impact on what I hope to achieve.
The one single thing that I think would be very important to achieve is how people regard evidence and policy making. For me, that is absolutely central. I would like to develop that a little bit more. From my point of view, science has an obligation to generate the knowledge and the evidence that can be used in policy making. That should be the fundamental platform on which policy is built. That is just as appropriate for every member state as it is for the European Commission.
At the moment, although the policy making process in the European Commission is very robust-if I look at how it is structured, how evidence is gathered and how impact is assessed, it is very impressive-when it gets to the stage where individual member states look at it and Parliament addresses it, the evidence is often unpicked and bits of it are removed in order to find consensus around a particular policy. Although that is part of the democratic process and so I think and expect that that would happen, there is not a great deal of transparency around why the evidence is not being followed.
At the end of 2014 I would like there to be an understanding that, if the evidence is not adhered to in policy making, there would be a statement to say that we accept the evidence, that it is robust and that the evidence is true, but for various reasons we are reducing our reliance on evidence; and that could be social, economic, ethical or whatever. We need that transparency and also accountability so that, if people vote against something where clearly the evidence supports it, there should be a degree of accountability there, and then, for me, we would be in a much better place. At the moment, I think, sometimes evidence is disregarded in policy and, quite rightly, citizens would feel that there is something wrong with the evidence then, and that is not the case in many instances. For me, that is a very important thing.
The second thing would be to try and raise more awareness across Europe about just how impressive the knowledge is that we generate in Europe. In my mind it is really second to none. If you look at the impact of the knowledge that we generate, the infrastructures that we have and the things that we can do as a European Union that no individual member state or indeed any other nation outside Europe could deliver-I am thinking there of things such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN or the European Fusion for Energy project, for example, with the European Space Agency-they are all examples of where Europe absolutely excels. I would feel that we were in a much better position if citizens understood that and also could appreciate that science is culture. It is not accessible enough and we don’t celebrate it enough. I would like every one of us to be less modest about our achievement in science, engineering and technology in Europe because it is one thing we can truly shout about, claim we are the best and actually be the best.
Those two areas would raise much more public appetite around science, which would also help support investment in science.
Q2 Chair: Do you publish the strategic priorities of your office?
Professor Glover: No. You can appreciate that at the moment we are trying to come to a working agreement across the Commission about how my office will operate. As a new structure, there is a challenge for the rest of the Commission to be able to work with my office and find out where I can add value for them and I find out where there might be opportunities for me. I have agreed with President Barroso, whom I report to directly, what my priorities will be with him for the next year or so. What I have just mentioned has been discussed with him.
At the beginning of next year, on my website on the Commission, I will highlight what my priorities will be for next year, but the first year has been a lot of planning and so there has been nothing public.
Q3 Chair: How will you measure your success in this rather difficult post?
Professor Glover: It will be quite difficult to measure success. I say that with some experience because in my previous role as Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, where I also set up the role because I was the first Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, an awful lot of the impact was a change in attitude. There was a change in attitude, for example, within government about how eager both policymakers and politicians were to talk about science, whereas previously they might not have wanted to talk about science. There was a much greater appetite for knowing what the knowledge is and how it might be used. That is really not measurable, or certainly we made no attempt to measure it.
In Europe, the very first objective that I explained to you was making the use of evidence transparent. What I want at the end of 2014 is to hear people talk about the policy and qualify how they are using the evidence. I will think that I have had quite an impact if that’s the case. I will go for that as my single measure of success. There are lots of other aspects of my role, which I have not mentioned, and I hope I will be able to get delivery on all of those as well.
Q4 Chair: Is the Commission receptive to any advice you give it?
Professor Glover: Yes. I suppose there are varying appetites across the Commission. Clearly President Barroso was very receptive, as he wanted to have a chief scientific adviser. As you know, there are a lot of DG areas across the Commission. There is a lot of appetite in key areas, so I will just mention a few. There is climate, energy, agriculture, obviously research science and innovation, and in areas that might not seem quite so obvious. For example there is DG Connect, which used to be DG INFSO, dealing with a lot of communication, digital economy and digital Europe.
Q5 Chair: It was DG XIII when I remember it.
Professor Glover: That shows you how innovative the area is because it keeps changing its name. They have an incredibly strong appetite and look for opportunity wherever it might present itself. There are a lot of easy wins there. In a lot of other areas it just probably comes more slowly. There is a capacity limit for me as well. I have to identify areas where I think I can make most impact and work with those first before trying to look at the broader spectrum.
Q6 Chair: Do you meet the executive layer, particularly at the scientific level, regularly?
Professor Glover: Yes, I do. There are a lot of joint events. Some events we have in fact organised together. For example, DG Research and Innovation, DG Joint Research Centre, Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn and I hosted a meeting with the European Academies Scientific Advisory Council. That brings together the learned academies across the member states to try and identify, again round evidence, how we might use the learned academies more to bring evidence into the policy-making process of the Commission and to do that in a timely way. Academies often publish reports but might do that in a way that is not synchronised with policy making. If something arrives a week late, it’s just no use as it has to be timely. That is just an example. I also meet regularly with Commissioners and with the Commissioners’ cabinets in key areas to try and identify ways that we might work together.
Q7 Chair: Is that more or less following the model that John Beddington started to develop with his network of advisers across government?
Professor Glover: Yes; it is slightly different in what you have in the UK Government. Am I right that even Treasury now has a chief scientific adviser?
Professor Glover: Although it is an economist.
Graham Stringer: It is by title.
Professor Glover: I think every Government Department in the UK has a chief scientific adviser. John Beddington basically chairs that network across the piece, which is very effective. Indeed I was part of that, being CSA in Scotland.
The individual DG areas in the Commission don’t necessarily have chief scientific advisers. Some do but most don’t. Some of the agencies do; for example, the European Chemicals Agency based in Helsinki will have a chief scientific adviser and I would meet with them. It is a slightly different network. It is not quite as easily identified as the one that John Beddington would have here.
Q8 Chair: At the highest level-the Commission President-do you meet him regularly?
Professor Glover: I meet him on request.
Q9 Chair: Whose request?
Professor Glover: My request actually, apart from when I initially arrived of course. The way it operates is that I can give advice proactively. I try and identify areas where I think it would be of value for President Barroso to know about a particular European strength or potentially a threat that a new technology might have for Europe. I would send him briefings and follow that up with meetings. Also, he might ask me, as he has done, on some key areas about some things that might, for example, particularly be in the news with the Commission and he thinks, "Okay, I need a background briefing on that; please tell me what I need to know and what I don’t need to know." That has either been followed up with a meeting or not, depending on President Barroso’s own preference. I have good access. Let’s put it this way: I have never asked for a meeting and not had a meeting.
Q10 Chair: I have a final question before we move on. In the relatively short period you have been there what is the biggest challenge you have faced, apart from getting to know the complex establishment?
Professor Glover: I think the organisational structure of the European Commission. It’s very big. With any big organisation, inevitably, DG areas fall into silos. My role is quite different from anything else there, so I will be seen as somewhat unusual. I always like people to think of a chief scientific adviser role as having an element of independence. The independence bit comes from the scientific evidence being independent of political philosophy, for example. Political philosophy could change overnight if there was an election somewhere, but the evidence is unlikely to do that. It may evolve slowly over time. In a way, the role is a little bit challenging for some in the Commission. Individual DG areas, and some more than others, might think, "I don’t know if there’s an opportunity here for me or not."
The biggest challenge has not been to meet people, because people have always responded to a request for a meeting, but to work with them and try and identify where my role might have added value for them, bearing in mind that I have very limited resources. The other challenge was arriving and having a resource, effectively, of one person, which was in contrast to my role in Scotland. For 5 million people I had a team of nine. Now I have 500 million people and there is a team of one. That was a bit hard to adjust to.
One of the first things I had to do was try and persuade some other DG areas in the Commission that they might want to give me resource. That was a bit of a challenge to begin with, but now that is working quite well.
Q11 Stephen Metcalfe: On that issue about resource, you said there were nine people for 5 million and now one person for 500 million. Do you therefore think this is a sticking-plaster appointment and that the Commission is not taking it as seriously as it should? While I am sure we have an excellent person heading up the Department, the resources do seem to be very limited, or is it, as you said, that those resources are already allocated to the DGs and it is your job to tickle them away?
Professor Glover: If I’m quite honest with you, it would have been easier for me if I had turned up and had a reasonable set resource with which I could just start operating. I am quite an impatient person and so there is a frustration for me in having to negotiate for resource as I go. I don’t think that that reflects a lack of commitment in the Commission, particularly from the President, about having a chief scientific adviser, and I do feel that he is firmly committed to it. It possibly reflects the economic environment in the Commission. At a time when the Commission itself has to reduce staffing, as indeed happens here in the UK in terms of the civil service, there was a real feeling that it was not the right time to start building up a team as others lost members of staff. Other DG areas have been quite good to me. I immediately had a full-time person who Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, through the Joint Research Centre, said could come and work with me. That has been terrific. Some of the European agencies have offered me resource as well in terms of manpower and so on.
Taking a very optimistic viewpoint, and I am an optimist, it has forced me to partner. That will be the way that I can get things done more easily. It may have been a poisoned chalice if I’d had a large team to be able to deliver what I wanted to do because I might have found myself isolated, whereas I have to integrate into the areas in the Commission or I won’t be able to do what I want to do.
Q12 Stephen Metcalfe: Is that specifically into the DGs or other agencies as well?
Professor Glover: The DGs and the agencies. As you would imagine, the agencies normally have independent scientific advisory groups. They often have a lot of scientists actually working with them. I will give you an example. If I want to know about emergency response or emergency planning for, let’s say, something like earthquake or volcanic eruption, I could ask the Joint Research Centre. The Joint Research Centre could then provide me with all the scientific background and briefing, which would be excellent. That is a good starting point for me. Rather than duplicating it all in-house, I can use a resource that is already there.
Q13 Stephen Metcalfe: You said a little earlier in your evidence that you saw the DGs as quite isolated in silos. Is there a lot of crossover between them, or do you see yourself as having a role in getting them to share information?
Professor Glover: It is definitely my role. It is serendipity. I have the good fortune and it is part of my role to understand what is going on in different DG areas. I can then bring the information with me, if you like. It is almost like a viral infection. I am going to different areas and then that information is spreading. I can think of one particular example where there was thinking going on in one DG area and in an agency and they were unaware of what each other was doing. I said, "Do you know that this is happening in both places?" I brought them together, along with others, and they are now working together. Those are the sorts of things. It comes back to what the Chair said earlier. It is hard to measure the success of that, but I am sure that is success because it adds innovative approach and also reduces duplication, which happens in the Commission.
Q14 Stephen Metcalfe: You talked about Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. Could you describe where the boundaries are between what you do and what she does? Are there any crossovers or have you had to work those boundaries out yourself? Were they very clear right from the start?
Professor Glover: There is a good deal of clarity. Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn’s portfolio includes DG RTD, Research, Innovation and Science-that is the funding for Framework or Horizon 2020, which is going to be the next Framework programme-and also the Joint Research Centre. There is some overlap there so let me explain that.
My role is much more looking at science for policy rather than policy for science. For example, she would look at policy for science in terms of the funding in RTD, what you should fund to be able to get the best infrastructure for Europe and how you could focus the funding through Horizon 2020 to increase the participation of industry along with academia in the next Horizon programme. JRC, on the other hand, is much more science for evidence because they underpin much of the policy. There would be overlap with me there in making sure that people are aware of what the Joint Research Centre does.
There was a little bit of surprise on my behalf. Historically, the Joint Research Centre has had a low profile in the Commission. There is a substantial number of staff there. They have about 2,500 or something like that. It’s surprising that people aren’t hearing something from 2,500 scientists. I am working with the Commissioner to highlight that there is an amazing resource there and that people must use this so that there is a partnership there. I don’t know if that gives you a bit of a flavour, but there are some areas that I will comment on, of course, but they are not my responsibility.
Q15 Stephen Metcalfe: As you say, there are 2,500 people in the Joint Research Centre, which not many people have heard about, and you are struggling on your own as one person. Is that the right use of resources?
Professor Glover: We do different things. For example, I needed to know more about the Joint Research Centre so I visited their main headquarters, which is in Ispra in Italy. We all benefit hugely from what the Joint Research Centre does. Business across member states will benefit because they will do things like helping with testing. If we buy a smoke alarm, we need to know that it works under certain parameters. They do a lot of the testing and see what is reasonable to underpin policy, legislation, regulation or directives around what the working capacity of a smoke alarm needs to be. I don’t really want to be doing that so, as far as I am concerned, I am happy that those scientists are doing that. Indeed, it was somebody from JRC who came across to me to be able to support my team. So I know what you are saying.
Q16 Stephen Metcalfe: How will they cope with only 2,499 people?
Professor Glover: Do you know-it might happen? We will just have to wait and see.
Q17 Stephen Metcalfe: You talked about the Joint Research Council testing of smoke alarms, but aren’t there other bodies that do that commercially? Is there something more tangible that you could give us other than that?
Professor Glover: That Ispra do?
Stephen Metcalfe: Yes.
Professor Glover: I could spend hours telling you what Ispra does, but I’m not sure it’s my job to be doing that.
Q18 Stephen Metcalfe: Can you tell us whether or not it has value and that those 2,500 people are working flat out for the benefit of the whole of Europe?
Professor Glover: We have extremely high value, which would be much improved if their profile was higher. The Joint Research Centre has MOUs with lots of other agencies. For example, in determining new regulation around something like catalytic converters, there are aspects of that which we or JRC might have the technology to be able to deliver, but it might well be that north America or the US might have skills in another area. Instead of us also having to have skills in those areas, it is much better to see if we can work collaboratively. The Joint Research Centre is a very good mechanism to do that because it is scientist to scientist. It can work out an operating procedure so that we get very good value for money. I am strongly supportive of it.
Q19 Stephen Metcalfe: I have a final brief question. Who is going to take up the raising of the profile of the Joint Research Centre?
Professor Glover: The new director is doing that. Dominique Ristori is a year and a half into the job. I talk a lot about the Joint Research Centre so we have already discussed the limited resource. But we are talking about it now, so, if any of you didn’t know about it, you do now. It is important that I talk about it. They themselves are looking at how they might be much more interactive, raise their profile and try and get what they do very much more in the public eye as well as in the eye of the Commission and Parliament.
Q20 Stephen Mosley: In the first interview that you did after you got your position you spoke about the importance of gender equality in science. How do you think that this can best be achieved?
Professor Glover: There are two aspects for me. One is encouraging young women to think that a career in science and engineering is for them-that there are not going to be any barriers because they are female. It is encouraging them into the profession in the first place. That is hard to do. Without wishing to pre-empt what any of you might have said, if I asked you very quickly, "There is a physicist outside the room. Describe them to me", most of you would say, "It’s a man in a white coat with glasses, a beard and mad hair." People don’t immediately think "woman", and, because of that, it is all pervasive in our culture. When talking about scientists, we talk about "he" often. When we look to employ scientists, often the language used in adverts is inadvertently that an ideal candidate will be X, Y and Z and then "he will". People will excuse that and say, "Oh but everybody knows we mean he and she", but that’s not the case. We do very much need to highlight role models. It is a proven way of allowing particularly younger women to identify that that person looks like me and that could be me if I want to do that. Encouraging them in is one aspect.
We have a big task, particularly in physics but also in computing science and engineering. We are not good at getting women into those professions. Those professions suffer because of it. They lack a diversity of approach so we won’t be globally competitive if we don’t take advantage of all the intellect that we have available. We have to encourage them in.
The second thing is that we have to retain them. We are awful at retaining them. Of course there is an equality issue, but let’s just set equality aside for a minute. It’s absolutely foolish to invest in someone to the point where they become incredibly valuable-the post-doctoral scientist, the young lecturer, the researcher in industry or whatever-and that person does another very valuable thing, which is consider having a family, and then we somehow step back and don’t support them through to making a judgment that they will return back into the working environment that they left. Until we do that properly, we are shooting ourselves in the foot because we are taking the most valuable resource and discarding it as if it’s not important. I don’t understand that because, if it was in somebody’s business plan, people wouldn’t lend them money. No business would say, "Okay, I am going to train people up and then I’m just going to lose them."
How do we do that? I think that all member states need to be much more imaginative around maternity and paternity leave. I really feel it comes down to this. If I take the example of Finland, they felt they had a problem in that it was just women that were taking maternity leave. They had nine months’ statutory maternity or child care leave in Finland. They said, "Okay, it will be nine months, but it can be taken by the man or the woman." Overnight, nothing changed. The women all took it, and when men were asked they said, "I wouldn’t be taken seriously at work if I took off some paternity time. So I am not going to do it because my career is important." They changed the rules so that three months has to be taken by the woman or she loses it and three months has to be taken by the man or he loses it. The other three months can be taken by either partner. Overnight, men all started taking three months because they thought they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they didn’t take three months’ paternity leave and they would lose it otherwise, which in itself is interesting.
The unexpected finding was that two years after introducing this-I’m not exactly sure of the time period-men who took paternity leave were, on average, much more successful than their male colleagues who had not taken paternity leave. There are a lot of skills that you learn whilst doing everything you do when you look after a new-born baby, which you take back to the work force. It could be tolerance of your colleagues or it could be focusing in on what’s really important. Those are two, for example.
What it should flag up to employers is that there is a real advantage of this happening. Also, if women go away and have maternity leave, when they come back they bring back those same skills. It’s not an easy thing to deliver-I understand that-but we won’t be competitive in Europe if we don’t take advantage of the best intellect that we have available, and we are squandering it at the moment.
Q21 Stephen Mosley: On the first of those two points, I am guessing that you have seen the "Science: It’s a Girl Thing!" video, haven’t you?
Professor Glover: Yes, I have.
Q22 Stephen Mosley: What did you think of it?
Professor Glover: This won’t surprise you. It wouldn’t appeal to me, but then I’m not a 15-year-old girl who has no interest in science. There was a lot of market research done on what images to use. It was done with 15-year-old girls who had no interest in science. They were asked, "What images would make you open a website or open a book?" Those were the images they chose, so those were the images that RDT decided to use in their campaign as the teaser video to get, particularly, that hard-to-reach group, who have self-confessed that they have no interest in science because they think it’s not for them, to open the website and start looking at role models and so on.
I know, and you obviously know as well, that a lot of very high-profile people had a very bad reaction to that. I spoke personally to them about it and we did agree that it wasn’t aimed at us. We look at it and think, "Oh no, this is the worst possible stereotyping of women, what they are interested in and so on." The campaign wasn’t trying to change the whole world’s perception of women; it was just trying to get a very hard group at least to take a look. To be fair, in seeing the huge response of people to the teaser video, it got taken down very quickly and there was an apology. So that’s not a bad reaction.
The other thing I would say is that there is a lot of research being done at the moment on looking at bad publicity and the fact that bad publicity can sometimes be great publicity. Maybe inadvertently it might have caused a lot of people to go in and have a look at what else was there.
Q23 Stephen Mosley: Would you do it again, and, if the answer is no, what would you do to stop something like that happening again?
Professor Glover: Just to be clear, that campaign was nothing to do with me. I am not trying to disown it, but I am not in a position to do that. I think we have established that I have very few resources and I certainly don’t have a budget for a campaign like that.
Q24 Stephen Mosley: Should the Commission do it again then?
Professor Glover: I think it would be worthwhile doing. Maybe they took their eye off not just the target audience but the broader audience, whose support they need to be able to deliver the back-up to any such campaign. Maybe somebody just took their eye off that. It would be sensible to do a health check of any such video to make sure that it didn’t offend.
Q25 Caroline Dinenage: We are going from gender equality to fish now, if there is a smooth segue between the two. We are in the process of seeing reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy, as you know. Have you been involved in this process? Are you confident that the proposals are based on sound scientific evidence?
Professor Glover: I haven’t been involved in the fisheries policy process and let me tell you why. I am trying to establish my role in both the gathering of evidence and the construction of future policy, but where there is ongoing policy I just don’t have the ability to be able to look at each one of those.
The objective of the Common Fisheries Policy is to try and provide sustainable fishery. There is a lot of scientific evidence that underpins trying to implement different fishing strategies and regimes to continue to allow fishing because it is a valuable employment, but it is also a valuable source of calorie intake for citizens to eat fish. There needs to be a balance between both fishing as an industry and also the sustainability of the resource.
We have in the past had a restriction on fishery. There is very good evidence to demonstrate that when we have been able to see a fish stock coming back and recovering, which is what you would want to see, and that is as was modelled and predicted. The evidence has been pretty good.
There is a lot of objection to the evidence. I know that there are many fishing industry groups who challenge the evidence. I would expect that to happen because it’s a direct threat to livelihood. For me, that is where I think politics has to work with the evidence and identify the best way forward. You can’t change things overnight so you have to move in a step-wise manner.
Q26 Caroline Dinenage: Where there is this clash between the environmental issue and the socio-economic impact upon people’s livelihoods, where do you think the Commission’s priorities should lie?
Professor Glover: I don’t think honestly that is for me to say. What is important for me is that I have to make sure the Commission is accessing evidence and that they are fully aware of the implications of the evidence. Every policy is looked at and there is an impact assessment board. As a very brief highlighting of how policy is developed, if somebody proposes a policy, they have to answer a simple question, "Would that policy have any impact or not?" If the person says, "What I am proposing would have no impact whatsoever", which would be quite unlikely because why would you propose something, then there is no obligation to gather evidence. If you say, "Yes, it will have impact", you have to gather the evidence base, which is very robust, and then you have to look at the impact, which would include the socio-economic impact. In democratically elected Parliaments, it is politicians who represent the citizens who need to make the decision with all the evidence at their disposal.
Q27 Caroline Dinenage: In terms of that evidence, you will be aware that there were reports in the UK press saying that there were only 100 adult cod alive in the North sea.
Professor Glover: I wasn’t aware of that, no.
Q28 Caroline Dinenage: It was in The Times and The Telegraph. It was a misinterpretation of the fisheries data. An adult cod is six years old and they took it for any that are over the age of 13. They established that there were only 100 alive in the North sea. This was published in The Times and The Telegraph.
Bearing this in mind-clearly you are not aware of this so it may be a slightly unkind question-do you think that there are issues in the way the EU communicates the science around its policies and could this be improved?
Professor Glover: The communication of science could certainly be improved. I wasn’t aware of the report you have mentioned that had been in The Times and The Telegraph. If you are looking for evidence, I don’t think you would be going and looking at newspapers for your evidence. When any one of us has interacted with a newspaper, a journalist or whatever, there is often an interpretation put on what is said. Evidence is not looked at carefully. There are often extreme time pressures in journalism. You have to meet a deadline, you see a figure and you just pull it out and publish it. We also all know that one of the things that the press like most is controversy. If it is good news and reasonable, it doesn’t really get very many column inches.
Having said that, going back to your underlying point, I have a lot of sympathy with what you are saying. You are asking whether we communicate science properly. It also comes back to the JRC. Do they communicate the research that they do effectively so that a non-scientist can look at it and readily understand the impact of what’s being said? We are by no means perfect and a lot has to be done in improving communication. I feel really strongly about that. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at some so-called science communication for the general public-and I have quite a few years of science under my belt-and thought, "Do you know-I have no idea what that means?" I have enough confidence-only just enough-at this stage in my career to think that the problem might not be with me but with the person who wrote that.
It is a fundamental problem to do with scientists. "What am I doing about it?" might be your next question. One of the things is that I have spoken to DG EAC in the Commission, who deal with further and higher education and so on. I have asked them to consider how they might interact with member states around education of scientists for the 21st century. I was educated quite firmly in the 20th century. When I went to school and university 40-odd years ago the world was a completely different place. There was no social media. I could not go to the internet for information when I was writing a scientific essay and so on. I was taught in a certain way and I reacted in a certain way.
Nowadays, in many of our great universities worldwide I have a feeling that they are still teaching students the way I was taught. Maybe it is because it’s people like me who are just teaching the way they were taught. That can’t be appropriate for the 21st century. I will give you a "for instance".
One of the things we could do to vastly improve communication is this. I studied biochemistry. If I had to write an essay about some fine detail about biochemistry, I wrote the technical essay. I would ask students nowadays of course to write that technical essay but to have a 100-word lay summary that could be published in The Mirror, The Sun, the Mail, The Times or The Guardian that could be read by an intelligent 12-year old and they would really understand why that thing in biochemistry was really important. Students at university should be marked on that. They should get maybe 20% for that and 80% for the rest. That would illustrate to them that there is no point in having knowledge if you can’t communicate it. It is as if it never existed. It is worse than useless because it puts people off. There is a huge gap there and we could be much more imaginative about how we teach our students.
If I can be blunt, I went to university being very educated in literature, the arts, sculpture, music, poetry and the works. I went in speaking English, I studied biochemistry for four years and I came out speaking biochemistry. It took me a long time to learn to speak English again. That is what I am worried about. We are producing great students with fantastic brains and great ability, but they just can’t tell us what they are doing and why it is important. I agree with you; I think that’s what I am saying.
Q29 Chair: You will be interested in the fact that we met a group of young scientists in CERN. One of the discussions we had with the young British scientists was about what they are doing to go back to talk to the schools that they came from about the exciting things they are doing. They were up for it. There is a strongly held view in this Committee that people like you should be encouraging that to take place as widely as possible in programmes that the European Commission are funding. It is a tiny drop in the ocean but it could do a lot.
Professor Glover: Small things like that can have quite a big impact. On CERN particularly, they have a fantastic programme. It is part of their triangle of what they do on education and communication of what they do. I have been very impressed by that. They have hosted many UK teachers going and working at CERN, understanding how you can translate what goes on into easily accessible information.
Chair: The scale of the problem is massive. Galileo would still be in trouble in Italy, as we have just seen.
Professor Glover: Yes, that’s true.
Q30 Stephen Metcalfe: I would like to talk a little bit about the overall innovation landscape across Europe and particularly about the role of Horizon 2020. You have been a bit damning of innovation across Europe. I think you said that companies in Europe are "strangely apathetic about innovation". Is it as simple as it sounds? Why did you say that and what do you think the causes are?
Professor Glover: I think that many companies, particularly our SMEs-and we have a huge proliferation of small and medium enterprises-often think that research is a luxury and not a necessity. I would argue to them that it’s a necessity. If you stand still, you are effectively moving backwards. You have to keep developing; you have to innovate. How can you do that? You can’t necessarily always do that in-house if you are a small company and have limited resource, and yet you have our universities and research institutes right across Europe who might think in a UK-context.
I will just speak about the UK context here. I would say that over the past 10 to 15 years there has been pretty much a revolution going on in our universities in particular, encouraging people to take their knowledge and go out there and try and look for a home for it. There has been a big outward push. The problem is that I might be one of these academics and often what happens is that I go into a company and say, "This is my research and this is what I do." The company sits there and just thinks, "That’s of no interest to me."
What should happen is that a company should come to me and say, "This is my problem; this is my bottleneck; this is my barrier. How do I get round this?" This is what all scientists do best. You give them a problem-or it seems like a problem to the owner of it-and they just see it as a challenge. They want to solve that problem. In a way, it is a marriage potentially made in heaven but we don’t put the partners together. We should really be much more proactive in encouraging our business community to be smart procurers of knowledge. They know what they need. The researchers-the generators of knowledge-don’t always know what is wanted out there. At the moment there is a mismatch. It is not the only thing that’s not working right in the system, but, if we could tackle that, we would see a big improvement.
Q31 Stephen Metcalfe: Do you have any ideas as to how to tackle that?
Professor Glover: There are lots of ideas that we might try. For example, if you look right across Europe at where our universities are, they are often in big towns where there are also huge numbers of SMEs and often large companies. I hate putting the onus on the universities again because we ask universities to do rather a lot at the moment, but we might encourage every member of the research staff to adopt a company and think about going to see them. It could be once a month for a cup of coffee. Part of that is just to establish some kind of relationship.
I have seen this happening myself where small companies think scientists are a foreign species and certainly a waste of time and you wouldn’t want to waste your time with them. If you could dispel that to begin with, most scientists, just like most business people, are human beings and have all the usual hopes, aspirations and so on. If we could then get a rapport where the company says, "Everything is great, except as part of my manufacturing process I have quite a heavy waste stream and I have to pay a lot of money for a licence to discharge that", then the scientist could say, "How could we reduce the waste stream? What do you need it for?" That scientist may not be able to solve the problem but they will know someone who might be able to.
Q32 Stephen Metcalfe: Are there any examples of countries that do this better than others?
Professor Glover: Germany is a very good example of a country where they have a much more developed view of the pathway from knowledge through into the economy. Most of you will have heard of things like the Fraunhofer institutes and so on, where you are not looking at the basic research but at the next stage through development and taking that forward. Often, people in a Fraunhofer institute might act as trusted translators in both directions, back to the universities or research institutes and in the other direction into the business community in the commercial world. That is a very good example.
One thing that does work although it is very small-and you may or may not know about it but it is UK grown-is an organisation in Scotland called Interface, which is free at the point of use for the business user. It has a large database of expertise in the academic environment. If I’m a business, I get in touch with Interface and say, "Too much waste; how can I reduce it?" Interface would look through the database and say, "Here are five contacts; it’s up to you." When I say that’s successful, I am judging that by a lot of repeat business. Companies use it once and think, "That really worked so I’ll use it again." Those sorts of things might help break down the barriers. I am sure that there are lots of other ways that you can do it.
Q33 Stephen Metcalfe: Moving on to the way the EU citizen views technology and innovation, I think you said that there was a great deal of conservatism about new technology. Could you expand on that and then say if you think you have a role in trying to address it?
Professor Glover: There is an organisation called Eurobarometer. I always think it should be called "Eurothermometer" because it takes the temperature of what European citizens are thinking in terms of technology and so on. If you ask across the European Union, "What do you think about new technology?", surprisingly, because European citizens have a big appetite for new technology and if you look in their bag or whatever they will have lots of technological gadgets and so on, they say that they are not inclined to support new technology, that they are suspicious and they don’t feel there is always the right regulation. In contrast, for example, with north America, where they say, "If it’s new, we want it", if it’s new in Europe it’s, "Let someone else try it out first and then we might use it." There is this race to be second, which doesn’t serve us well because we produce such good knowledge.
Also, again, looking at attitudes towards scientists in Europe and whether they make our lives safer and generally do good, if you looked at the difference between 2005 and 2010-a five-year difference-the number of people who thought that scientists were a force for good has actually decreased. So there is increasing suspicion around science. That makes me very worried, because, if we fund an individual member state and also, through the Commission, the generation of world-beating knowledge, but citizens don’t necessarily want to see that knowledge being transferred into the economy because they are reluctant to use it or are worried about it, then we would have to re-examine why we are spending all the money generating the knowledge if there is some kind of barrier in people’s minds about the use of the technology.
Do I have a role? It comes back to what I said about science. For me, science is the most creative thing you could do with your life. Many non-scientists might be quite surprised to hear me say that, because they would say, "Surely you must mean music or art", but they are all very creative. We need to open up science more and it also comes back to the question about communication.
I’ll give you an example of excellent communication that reached a lot of people. The EU-40 group in the European Parliament-which is a group of MEPs elected when they were under 40, so the younger group in Parliament-all shared a great passion for "Star Trek". They decided it would be good to have a "Star Trek" event in the European Parliament. They thought it would be a good idea because, although none of them were scientists, they felt that "Star Trek" was a really good way of talking about science and lots of other social issues.
They had an event at which I gave the introductory talk. I have to admit to being a bit of a "Star Trek" fan here, if I can say that without putting my anorak on. I certainly never missed my episodes of "Star Trek" when I was young. Interestingly, I watched it with my mother, who was also a great fan.
If you look at the wireless communicator, that is the mobile phone. If you look at the tricorder, that is much of the biosensor data we have. If you look at the injectionless technology, we have it. If you even look at cloaking devices to hide your spaceship, we are able to deliver that. We had an audience of about 400 young people from right across Europe. What I was saying to them is that you are limited only by your own imagination. You can use science, engineering and technology to invent the future.
If you look at "Star Trek", I have to say without waxing too lyrical here that it was an amazing programme. It was during the cold war period of 1966. There was a Russian officer on the deck of "Star Trek". There was a Scottish engineer with his dilithium crystals trying to do warp drive. We had an ethnic American as the communicator. It was an amazing social statement as well as using science for the good of mankind.
That was excellent communication because it was completely accessible. In fact, the Russian officer I was mentioning, whose name was Commander Chekov, was invited along and appeared, and it was wonderful that he came. But we also had three astronauts who came. We had the first Commander Frank De Winne of the International Space Station. For those real "Star Trek" doyennes amongst you, of course Sir Patrick Stewart was the first European commander of one of the Starfleet Command. The detail is beginning to leave me now.
The young people in the audience started thinking that science is a way into this. As I was saying to them, I would have liked to have been an astronaut. It didn’t work out for me but science has worked out for me. It gives you so many opportunities. Science never closes any doors; it only opens them. Science prepares you to do lots of things in life, not just science. That was excellent communication, particularly for young people. I just wish that we could do that in a much broader way right across the European Union.
Q34 Graham Stringer: I was always worried about the European Parliament, but now I know that it’s full of Trekkies I am even more worried.
Professor Glover: To be fair, it wasn’t full of Trekkies.
Chair: Professor Glover solves the problem of two locations.
Professor Glover: Just for interest, the headline that came out of that was "Let’s go to Mars, not Strasbourg". That came out of the European Parliament.
Chair: The food is better in Strasbourg.
Q35 Graham Stringer: On a different tack, I was appalled-as many people across Europe were, not just the scientists in this country but in Germany and elsewhere-by the European Court of Justice’s ruling in the Brüstle v Greenpeace case where the court defined what a human embryo was. They went into the moral environment of that and said that it was immoral to have human stem cell lines. There are worries in our best universities that this will affect research. Does President Barroso or do you have any view on clarifying that with an initiative from the Commission?
Professor Glover: Yes, but the Commission has a group that reports again also to President Barroso called the European Group on Ethics for Science and New Technologies. That is chaired by Professor Julian Kinderlerer from the UK. It comprises a body of about 30% scientists, 30% philosophers and theologians, and 30% lawyers. They have looked at things like stem cell technology, synthetic biology, and they are currently looking at energy. Their aim is to directly address the issue that you are raising. They try and take issues where there is substantial debate and there is sometimes confusion between a philosophical and evidential approach. Their remit is to come up with a consensus of how we can move forward.
From my point of view, if you take something like stem cell research, for example, then I understand that some people are very concerned about the use, in their view, of early embryo material. I think that the safeguards we have on how that is used and for what reasons those are used are very good and safeguard dignity of life. For me, what is very pressing in an ageing population that we have right across Europe is dignity of life at end of life. Stem cell research in particular might offer real hope and new treatment at that end.
We have to have a debate on it. As a scientist I can’t just say, "You should use stem cell technology; it will deliver the solutions that you want." I might believe that, but nobody elects me. There has to be a debate about it. Again, it comes back to communication. We need to communicate the value of what we want to do.
Q36 Graham Stringer: Is that really an adequate response? What the European Court of Justice seems to have done is make what was a very clear law much more ambiguous. Some of the moral dimensions of it are not going to be sorted out on an evidential basis. People have just completely different views. Some have moral views and some have the kind of pragmatic views that I agree with, which you have just stated.
Isn’t there an urgency about this? It is not just Alzheimer’s and ageing. There are lots of other potential benefits from stem cell research. Isn’t the responsibility on you and the Commission to come forward with something based on the evidence that allows people to vote within the Commission, the Council of Europe and the Parliament on this issue? I don’t believe there is any more knowledge or investigation of the moral arguments that are going to help. It needs a proposal and a decision, doesn’t it?
Professor Glover: It comes back to what I was saying earlier about the use of evidence and being transparent about it. Whether you talk about stem cells, GM technology or whatever it is, the evidence is there. What people are not clear about is when and why they dismiss the evidence and make decisions on the basis of a philosophical or ethical viewpoint, whatever that might be. I feel that I am making a proper response to you in saying that it is not my role to tell people what to do. It is my role to make them aware of the evidence in a form that is fully understandable and also to debate evidence with people. I am happy to do that. At the end of the day, if it is the European Parliament voting on a legislation or directive, I can’t tell them, "You must vote this way."
Q37 Graham Stringer: No; I agree. I am not saying that you can, but the legislation starts with the Commission, doesn’t it? It is initiated by the Commission.
Professor Glover: Yes.
Q38 Graham Stringer: Then it goes through the complicated co-decision making procedure. I would have thought, given that ambiguity had been created, that President Barroso and the rest of the Commission would want to clarify that with your advice. I am not asking you to stand in place of elected politicians.
Professor Glover: No. Where there are issues like that, that is one of the things that President Barroso has specifically asked that I do-that I work with him and the Commission to help interpret and clarify advice, particularly where there is controversy. There are some things that almost everybody would agree on, but there are other things where there is a real split. It is often where there is substantial and clear evidence that there is a philosophical viewpoint that would be counter to that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that that is a majority viewpoint. It just means that it is a loudly articulated viewpoint and so it gets a lot of airplay.
A good example is people who acknowledge climate change or man’s input into climate change and climate change deniers. You will often hear an equal voice, but that by no means represents the number of people who accept that there is man-made climate change and the others who just don’t want to or cannot believe it. There is a role there that did not previously exist before there was a chief scientific adviser because there wasn’t someone in the policy process who could go in as a challenge function or a critical interrogator and say, "But why is that evidence not being addressed?" But that is as much as I can do. I don’t know if that helps answer your question more.
Q39 Graham Stringer: Only if there is a timetable for it.
Professor Glover: There is a timetable in terms of new legislation. I can’t revisit old legislation because that’s not possible, but for all new legislation there is an inter-service consultation. I am copied into every one of those. Where there is a proposed change in legislation or directive or whatever, I will be made aware of what is being proposed and I can then challenge that.
Q40 Graham Stringer: On another difficult issue, I have read what you have said about GM foods and I essentially agree with it. Is there anything you can do to speed up the improvement in the legislative framework on GM foods at the same time as improving people’s understanding of what GM foods are and the fact that north Americans have lots of them quite safely?
Professor Glover: I don’t think it can be done at the same time. If I look at the voting record in Parliament on GM issues, there are some member states who vote no at every vote. They are not overnight going to vote yes because I say, "The evidence really is strong and robust and you should just believe in the evidence." We have to have a much better debate.
One thing that I feel is a substantial ray of hope in that argument is that, the more people that I speak to who are not in favour of GM crops, feed or whatever, what they always say to me is that they don’t like how the technology is being used. An example would be Roundup Ready crops, where you have a GM seed and you have to use a particular herbicide along with the seed. They object to the fact that you are being tied in to a particular herbicide or that it might increase the use of a particular herbicide. What is being objected to is the business practice; it’s not the GM technology. I think it’s important to make that distinction. We could be much more imaginative in Europe about how we use the technology to address some of our major challenges. That would also include water security, climate change, food security and so on. GM has a role to play in those areas.
We should disentangle in objectors’ minds that it may not be the technology, but the simple procedure of introducing a small identified piece of DNA into a target crop is a much more forensic way of altering the genetic information of a crop than taking two hybridisations and just hoping for the best. You have no idea what genetic rearrangement you have, but we have bred crops that way for thousands of years. What we have in our hand is one tool in a whole toolkit to be able to address future challenges. We do need to use it and Europe is at a great disadvantage if we don’t. I don’t think we can do it simultaneously by trying to change people’s minds and trying to get legislative change in Parliament, in the Commission, because I see it as being an extremely difficult issue. I am surprised at how emotional people get about that issue.
Q41 Stephen Mosley: I was going to move on to another controversial topic, especially with Graham here, which is climate change. How effective do you think the EU has been in dealing with climate change?
Professor Glover: The EU have their 20% reduction by 2020 target. At the moment they are examining whether there is any opportunity to increase that target of greenhouse gas reduction to 30%. Has anybody globally been truly effective in addressing climate change? I think the answer would have to be no. There are lots of reasons for that and there is a common theme here. We come back to communication again.
It is hard sometimes to appreciate just how pressing the problem is. I mentioned earlier that I am an optimist and I am, except in one area, and that is in climate change. I am truly worried that we might not be able, globally, to deal with climate change. The result of that would not be good for human populations on the planet.
There have been climate changes historically. We go through periods every 120,000 years of warm and cold periods. When that last happened, there weren’t very many of us on the planet so you could always move and migrate. We can’t do that now. There is nowhere for us to go. It is of pressing importance that we address climate change.
Europe can help in a leadership role, as all developed nations have to do. It is very difficult to move in isolation. I said earlier that the European Union has 500 million people. If we can get support in strategies and policies to be able to deliver on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, trying to keep us to an average global temperature rise of 2° C, which was the Copenhagen target, then that’s a good thing. There is a lot of effort in the Commission to try and do that. It has good bargaining power with other developed nations.
I don’t know if I am directly answering your question, but I think the European Union has real ambitions on climate change. It has also identified that it can potentially be a route to innovation. If you have to do things differently, you become very innovative. There are lots of examples of this. Let’s take the hole in the ozone layer. The whole manufacturing industry says to us, "But we have to use propellant in our aerosol cans; we have to use the chlorinated fluorocarbon propellants that are damaging the ozone layer." Yet by bringing in legislation-the Montreal Protocol in that case-we saw huge innovation in industry. We didn’t see the end of aerosol cans; we just used different technology and we delivered. I think we can do that with climate change. It is a real opportunity if only we are prepared to take it.
There are other underlying issues of limiting resources on our planet with a projected population of, let’s say, 9 billion people by 2050 or by the end of the century. There is not enough on the planet to deliver what we want. In Europe we use two and a half to three planets’ worth of resources to sustain our lifestyle. In north America they use five planets’ worth of resources to sustain their lifestyle. So we do need to do something regardless of climate change. We can innovate our way out of the problem but there has to be support and focus on that. I believe that is where the Commission can work. Partly through the Horizon 2020 programmes and other programmes, they can support that innovation.
Q42 Stephen Mosley: You say they can do that. Are they doing it?
Professor Glover: They are doing it by what is projected for Horizon 2020 and the key areas that are being addressed. If we also look at things like reform of the common agricultural policy, for example, there is an emphasis on innovation in agriculture to do things differently. If that addresses reducing the amount of chemicals, the amount of soil disturbance and so on, that will help us to meet a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the things that the Commission is doing is using that as almost a litmus test to look at lots of other policies and think, "Does it also meet that objective?" They are doing that so in that respect they are delivering. If you are asking me if they could do more, I would repeat what I said earlier; yes, I think they could do more, but so could every nation on the planet.
Q43 Stephen Mosley: In terms of other nations, what are the EU doing to try and secure international agreement to reduce carbon emissions or what more could they be doing?
Professor Glover: What more should they be doing? There is a lot of effort going on with emission trading schemes and trying to identify how they could be workable, not just across Europe but globally. Again, that is where Europe as a large market can take a lead and try and develop that globally. They are working in areas like that.
It is always part of the agenda in every area looking at climate change. When Commissioners travel abroad and when President Barroso visits lots of different countries, climate change will be top of the agenda in speaking to world leaders about addressing key issues that have significance at global level and not simply at European level.
Q44 Stephen Mosley: At the beginning, when you started answering the question, you talked about 125,000 years ago in the last ice age and said that, if that happens again, with the population on earth, we couldn’t cope with it. Are you suggesting that we should tackle natural climate change as well as man-made climate change?
Professor Glover: Because man-made climate change is accelerating the changes that we see in terms of climate average global temperature rise, which is what we want to contain, as that increases, due to the basic laws of physics, we will get melting of ice and sea levels rising. More than half the world’s population live in cities and most of those cities or many of the great cities of the world are on the coast. We will have a big problem to deal with. I am not suggesting at this stage that we need to look at the natural cycles of 120,000 years because, frankly, that’s not something we can deal with now anyway, but we do have something that is really a pressing concern. That is our impact on the planet now. If we don’t get that sorted, I don’t think we will really ever have to bother about the natural cycles of climate change in the future.
Q45 Chair: Professor Glover, we have covered a wide spread of ground. We are extremely grateful to you for spending so long with us. I do hope that we can have a permanent dialogue with your office because we are collectively very supportive of the concept of chief scientific advisers being spread around various political institutions to make sure that policy is evidence-based. We are extremely grateful to you for coming this afternoon.
Professor Glover: Thank you. I would be delighted if we could continue dialogue.
Chair: Thank you.