LEARNED SOCIETIES AND GOVERNMENT
67. Our predecessor Committee examined the Government's
scientific advisory system in a series of case study Reports in
the last Parliament. The Committee's end stage Report, The
Scientific Advisory System, which summed up issues that had
run throughout the case studies, said "In our view, the Learned
Bodies are an invaluable source of authoritative scientific advice,
and it is surprising that Government Departments appear not to
consult them as a matter of routine".
The Institute of Food Science and Technology told us "because
of the range of expertise and experience encompassed by Institutes
such as IFST they [the Institutes] are in a very strong position
to assemble expert panels in order to give objective specialist
advice to the Government".
68. Learned societies are active in the provision
of responses to government consultation but admitted to us that
they tended to be reactive rather than proactive in their provision
of information. We asked Professor McDermid of the British Computer
Society if he thought that the Government would have benefited
from that Society's expertise on major computing projects. He
replied "yes, absolutely".
The Institute of Physics told us "the Government and its
agencies have, in the past, not made as much use of the experience
and expertise which lies within learned societies, as they could
The UK Life Sciences Committee said "In submissions to the
OST on obtaining and using scientific advice across government
departments, UKLSC has repeatedly said that it would be very happy
to act as a source of advice and information. But it has not been
Many others expressed similar views. The Royal Society of Chemistry
submitted evidence to the Scientific Advisory System inquiry which
suggested that the Government thought of learned societies as
interested only in academic and not industrial issues.
Departments commission reports from commercial consultants where
expertise might be available in the learned societies. Government
departments make regrettably little use of the expertise of the
learned societies, despite repeated offers of assistance from
those organisations. We recommend that the Government consider
using learned societies instead of commercial consultancies if
they could carry out research in the same areas.
69. The Institute of Biology stated "We would
wish to produce proactive briefing papers. We suggest that government
departments and agencies invite organisations such as IoB to tender
for such activities".
We note this suggestion with interest. We are wary of recommending
a tendering process which could lead to smaller, poorer societies
missing out because their bids are not as glossy or they are unable
to offer advice as cheaply as larger societies. However, we agree
that societies themselves should judge when they feel they could
add expertise to government policy. We also think it right that
those societies who are able to provide scientific advice and
are interested in doing so should receive appropriate financial
reward for their efforts. In its Report on the Scientific Advisory
System, our predecessor Committee suggested that the Government
might commission reports from the learned societies where appropriate.
In its Response, the Government agreed that there was scope for
working more closely with the learned societies and, undertook
to explore with them whether they would welcome commissions along
the lines the Committee suggested.
We repeat the recommendation made in our predecessor Committee's
Report on the Scientific Advisory System that Government look
more towards the learned societies when soliciting expert scientific
advice. We think it right that all learned societies have equal
opportunity to provide that advice and that there be financial
compensation for those who produce substantial and extensive pieces
of advice. Learned societies should be able to bid for funding
to provide scientific advice work they feel competent to do.
LEARNED SOCIETIES AND THE ROYAL
70. Some of the learned societies felt that they
should be consulted by the Royal Society when there was an inquiry
into aspects of policy in their areas. The Royal Society admitted
in its submission that it did not consult other learned societies.
It does, however, include non-Fellows on its working groups; that
on the health effects of non-depleted uranium had a working group
of 11, of whom only two were Fellows.
Criticism came from the societies who felt that their subjects
were under-represented in the Royal Society. The British Computer
Society felt that "the Royal Society and the Royal Academy
of Engineering are not in a position to offer adequately informed
advice to the Government in key areas".
Some government agencies do realise this issue. The Environment
Agency said "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".
The issue of under-representation of certain sciences in the Fellowship
of the Royal Society is further addressed in paragraph 93 below.
We believe that the Royal Society's confidence in its all-round
expertise may be misplaced. We urge the Royal Society to consider
carefully when producing policy and advice whether it really has
adequate in-house expertise in all fields of scientific knowledge,
and to consult other learned societies as a matter of course.
93 See volume II, appendix 37 Back
Fourth Report from the Science and Technology Committee, 2000-01,
The Scientific Advisory System (HC 257), para 37 Back
See volume II, appendix 19 Back
Q 161 Back
See volume II, appendix 20 Back
See volume II, appendix 46 Back
HC 257, para 36 Back
See volume II, appendix 18 Back
HC 257, para 40. Back
First Special Report from the Science and Technology Committee,
2001-02, The Government's Response to the Science and Technology
Committee's Fourth Report, Session 2000-01, The Scientific Advisory
System, HC 360, paragraph 35. Back
See volume II, appendix 37 Back
See volume II, appendix 37 Back
See volume II, appendix 5 Back
See volume II, appendix 13 Back