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As my noble friend Lord Stone told us, we are to have a Science Year beginning in September 2001, which will involve the DfEE, NESTA and other organisations, including the British Association. The Alpha Galileo website is being expanded to help the media all over Europe become better informed and more aware of science and scientific matters. There will be a database where journalists and scientists can communicate directly.
New science centres for engaging the public are opening up all the time. One of the most impressive I have seen is at Bristol. Much of this information is brought together in the expanding journal Science and Public Affairs. The Government, the science museums, science centres, the research councils and the ForeSight teams have all picked up the importance of this dialogue, as has the ESRC and all the other institutions about which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, spoke. Indeed, one must begin to wonder whether, with so many organisations involved in communicating science, there is a risk of duplication of effort and an inefficient use of resources. Originally COPUS had this very task of co-ordination, but somehow it seems to have been left behind. However, all this activity must lead to greater trust between science and society.
We argued in our report that this dialogue, with its openness and transparency, should also lead to a greater acceptance of risk by the public. We pointed out that it is concealing the risk that gives offence. Dialogue may lead to more doubts and questions. It may lead to unbalanced and distorted reports in the media. But it is right to articulate these risks and to answer them. That is important because we seem to live in an increasingly more risk-averse society, which is leading people to demand an impossible level of protection. Indeed, without this dialogue we run the risk of over-reacting to that demand. I agree that a
The real point is that, if the public are engaged in dialogue, there is no need for Ministers or agencies to hide. The Government and agencies are there to make a difference, not to hide behind scientists, as they appeared to do during the early stages of the BSE saga. Only yesterday--for the first time and after all these activities--during the debate on the Philips report in another place, did four former Ministers show any regret or understanding of the damage that they had done to public confidence in science. It is a pity that it took so long.
Your Lordships' committee made several visits abroad during our considerations. The thing that struck me most about our visit to the United States was the relaxed attitude towards GM foods, not because the public underestimate the risks but because of the confidence and trust that they have in the system of regulation and the independence of the Food and Drug Administration. That is why we recommended that the new Food Standards Agency should cultivate a culture of direct, open and timely dialogue with the public. I very much welcome the announcement by the Chairman of the FSA that the agency will consult and set high standards for openness; and that he is determined to stick to them. I particularly welcome the fact that the agency is trying to reach out and involve consumers in policy making. This must lead to greater trust.
It became perfectly obvious during our work that if the public are in sympathy with the end purpose of the science, particularly if it will improve their health or the health of their children, they are perfectly willing to accept the risks. This was confirmed in the authoritative joint report by the Office of Science and Technology and the Wellcome Trust on Science and the Public, which was published in October last year, some nine months after our report was published.
According to that report, most people supported science because they could see the benefits accruing for themselves, their families and their fellow citizens from the achievements of science in health, in leisure and in well-being. The report also identified concerns about the ability of society to control science through the government. Concerns were expressed about what was going on in secret. The report concluded that those concerns can best be dealt with by communicating in an open and timely manner--precisely as we did.
A great deal of work went into our report. But we would have less to show for it without the skill of our Clerk, Andrew Makower, ably assisted by Adam Heathfield. Because this report dealt with social attitudes, I also thought that he and his colleagues showed much discretion in dealing with them. That was not an easy thing to do. We were wonderfully supported by our special advisers. It was thanks to them that we realised how far the relationship had deteriorated. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, our chairman, kept our noses to the grindstone and led us
In their response to your Lordships' report, the Government have accepted virtually all the recommendations. I cannot remember a previous occasion when your Lordships' recommendations have been so enthusiastically received. Perhaps this is because the problems are not unfamiliar. I have characterised them as a relationship moving from the first flush of youth to middle age. This lies within the experience and knowledge of most of us and so do the solutions, those common-sense solutions we bring to dealing with everyday problems in our lives. We know that they work. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln spoke of our good sense, and he is right.
Perhaps that is why our practical and simple recommendations have been taken up so enthusiastically by the scientific community and by the Government, even in the face of the bewildering complexity and pace of modern scientific advance.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue and to his committee for producing such a valuable report with highly commendable conclusions and recommendations. For me, and I am sure for many others, it was also a great learning opportunity. Like many other Members of your Lordships' House, I spoke in the debate on stem cell research and have been involved in some work on the social and ethical implications of this research. I expressed my support for appropriate and controlled research because, like many of us, I recognise the importance of scientific research to improve the human condition.
I rise to make a few comments on one area of science; namely, the new phenomenon of longevity which is a feature of our society. The demographic revolution is largely due to scientific successes. About three years ago I established an initiative called the Debate of the Age. It was designed to raise awareness among the general public and within the public policy sector, including academia, of the implications of our nation's changing demographic pattern. We organised about 1,500 debates across the whole of the nation. I think that it was successful as there is now a better understanding among the general public of at least two matters. First, we have many older people already, one in four of our voters--a fact which, somewhat belatedly, all of the political parties have woken up to in time for the coming general election. Secondly, there will be a massive increase in the number of older people in future, given increasing longevity due to scientific and medical endeavour. In some age groups there will be many more people. The oft-quoted figures of about 5,000 centenarians now and almost 40,000 within a generation say it all.
I was also heartened that the research councils got involved, through an Office of Science and Technology initiative, EQUAL, to extend quality of life. This has run since 1995 but with limited success, as is clear from the recent report of the Science and Technology Committee in another place. But the aim of EQUAL was important, to conduct and support research into ensuring that longer lives can be healthier and worth living. This is one example of the inextricable link between science and wider society and must affect the priorities for medical and many other areas of scientific research in the coming years.
The challenge to the scientific community still stands. The implications of longevity remain under-researched and under-resourced, yet such work is vital. I hope that the lesson of the DTI's EQUAL initiative is not lost on our scientific community for there is much valued work that can be done; it just needs better co-ordination and planning. As the Lords' Select Committee report recommends, we must involve the public more effectively.
In longevity research I must declare an interest as chair of the UK International Longevity Centre, a charity set up to promote research and debate among, primarily, academics, including scientists and policy makers, and in many other fields. One of our studies, for example, is looking at four major world cities--London, New York, Tokyo and Paris--to see how they will have to adjust to their changing demography. I also hope to set up a group of interested parliamentarians to add further profile to the issue.
But we need to go far wider. The importance of scientific research and science is not just about scientists doing the work. As the Select Committee report makes clear, it impinges on all aspects of our society, from schools to the media. I support efforts to improve understanding of what science is all about. Being a non-scientist, I would welcome greater clarity and simplicity as to what the research is trying to achieve and why. That way we shall keep with us our fellow non-scientific citizens and avoid the kind of hysteria we have seen over, as has been mentioned, GM foods or the understandable mistrust created by the BSE scandal.
I make a plea for more scientists to be appointed with a specific brief to make science more accessible and understandable to the public. I take this opportunity of acknowledging the magnificent work of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, in this respect. Schools, as he said, are vital in this respect. Some of the best work that Debate of the Age did was in schools. Young people are our future. Many of today's children are likely to live to be 100 and, indeed, far older, and
Society must adjust if only because economic reality forces it to. In turn, this will influence the kind of research and development that our scientific community will need to undertake. So science has a key role to play--indeed, it has already had a key role to play--in this age shift in our society. I welcome warmly the Select Committee's report and the Government's positive response to its wider recommendations to improve the understanding of science. I particularly look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, whom I first met many years ago when we began work together in the inner London juvenile court system.
Lord Waldegrave of North Hill: My Lords, it is rather intimidating to be, as I understand it, a little lower down the speakers' list than usual and to have heard so many noble Lords make such kind remarks about my participation in this debate. I feel almost that I should sit down at once so as not to disappoint their expectations.
It is a great privilege for me to have the opportunity of making my maiden speech in a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding under whom I served and from whom I learned a great deal as a junior Minister and whose chairmanship of the Select Committee I have watched from a distance and admired greatly. It is also my pleasure to be speaking on the subject of science and technology in this House which is without question the principal contributor to this subject in our Parliament and has been over the years. I well remember appearing as a Minister before the Select Committee of which my noble friend is now the chairman. I forget who was the chairman at the time. It may have been my noble friend and kinsman Lord Selborne. Appearing before that Select Committee as a Minister reminded me of nothing so much as appearing at an entrance interview at Oxford or something of that kind. It was a terrifying experience. Members of the Committee listened to what one said, commented on it, listened to what each other said, and behaved in ways unknown in Select Committees of another place.
I declare one or two interests. I work for an investment bank, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. Although the part for which I work is not directly involved in advising or investing in biotechnology or other technology companies, other parts of the group do. I am a non-executive director of Finsbury Life Sciences Investment Trust plc which invests in quoted and unquoted biotechnology companies. In that sense, perhaps I am in the same boat--I am sorry to say in a very much smaller way--as the Minister. It always seemed to me rather odd that he was criticised for having invested some money in science companies and
I am proud of the White Paper to which my name was attached. Many contributed to it. I was grateful for the kind words said about it in the Select Committee's report; it was described as seminal. I am also proud of the fact that in the Government's White Paper many of the themes we tried to carry forward then have been built upon and developed. Of all the subjects in government, science policy should be among those where partisan battles are least relevant. The timescales are longer and the issues are difficult to decide in terms of the normal left or right spectrum.
I wish to say, first, that I read the Select Committee report with immense pleasure. It was not only well written; it also caught brilliantly the mood and carried forward important themes which run back in the history of science policy but need addressing at this particular time--more than perhaps for many years. The fact that the report has already been so influential tells its own story.
I wish to make three short points: a bureaucratic one; a financial and organisational one; and another as regards the role of government. I hope that my first comment is not too controversial for a maiden speech. The government in which I served made one mistake in the area of science which I regretted. That mistake, which has not yet been corrected by the successor Government, although I live in hope, was to remove the Office of Science and Technology from the Cabinet Office and attach it to the Department of Trade and Industry and not to put the Minister in the Cabinet--I hope that I do not appear to be trying to butter up the Minister too much--which is a matter that could be corrected easily.
It is good that the Office of Science and Technology should not be seen to be attached to one department only: that is, as if to signal that wealth creation, important and vital though it is to our future prosperity, is the principal purpose of science and technology. That is not so. One might as well attach the office to the Department of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture or almost anywhere except perhaps the Foreign Office. But the symbolism--it was a little more than symbolism--of having the new office at the centre with direct access to the Prime Minister when needed was important. I regretted the change then; and I hope that the Government may consider re-placing it there again. That goes to one of the themes of the Select Committee's report because it symbolises the fact that science and technology are an integral part not only of all government policymaking but of society more widely.
Secondly, I refer to another mistake. I apologise for again being controversial. It is a mistake in which all parties have shared and in which I have played a part. It runs back perhaps beyond the last Conservative government to the end of the government before--like
We have moved decisively in that direction because of the natural and understandable pull of democracy asking, "What are these people up to? Are we getting value for money?" After the war for example, the medical research council of the day was able to give money on a more or less 20-year programme--a programme which ended in the Crick and Watson discoveries. They were not called to account every five minutes. They were not graded every 10 minutes. They got the best people and let them get on with it.
I do not say that we can take the risk of going right back to the old days. But I hope that we may consider beginning to lean against the wind. The degree of accountability that we now have means that the decision taking is becoming too centralised in the criteria laid down. We are putting too much pressure on people doing true blue skies research. We are not taking enough risks. I refer to blue skies research rather than applied research and technology. We are not looking enough to the underlying seed beds which may need investment for long periods before any results are seen. Jointly with the Wellcome Trust, the Government have begun to put that right in some respects. I hope that more can be done in that direction.
My final point overlaps my second point to some extent. I raise one caveat which was mentioned also by the noble Baroness, Lady Platt. It is all very well to say that we must persuade everyone in a great, warm consensus to move forward but it will never be quite like that in real life. My great guru, a great scientist and environmentalist, Professor James Lovelock, wrote last year:
That "provisionality" of science often brings it into fundamental conflict with people's natural desire for certainty and warmth--in certain circumstances, faith. It will always mean that science will be from time to time in conflict. The noble Baroness gave two good
Science will not always perform according to consensus. If we democratise science in the wrong sense--there is a right sense in which we have to keep the support of democracy for the process of science--but in giving (in the current fashion) stakeholders a say over what is done, we shall get ourselves into a muddle. In the blue skies basic research we cannot say what the result of the science will be. We cannot say with certainty that something should be allowed because it will result in health gains. Rutherford thought that there were no practical consequences to the splitting of the atom. The people who did the Michaelson-Morley experiment thought that they had proved the existence of the ether. Imagine Paul Dirac having to explain to stakeholders what he was doing and why one of his equations was aesthetically more satisfying than another. That is not practical. The people doing the work out of which the future comes have to be protected within institutions such as universities and research institutes, which need to be given a little more freedom than at present. Sometimes the scientists have to be protected from stakeholders.
All governments that are activist in trying to do things--including the one of which I was a member--find it difficult to allow things to happen that are not under their control and to have the self-denying ordinance of deciding not to control certain things. That goes back to my point about over-accountability. However, sometimes, the government have an essential role that no one else can carry out. The underlying support of blue skies basic research is one such task, because no market will ever support that. Another is the protection of scientists when zealots of one kind or another threaten them. That problem is more acute today than it has been for many years. I know that the Government are doing their best, but if they insist--rightly--that no drugs should be put on the market before they have been tested on animals, it is their moral duty to ensure that those who undertake such legal activities can do so safely. If the market fails--and it might, because companies may withdraw from marginal investment decisions--there could never be a better case for nationalisation. The Government would have to step into the breach and undertake the work themselves.
I hope that the situation does not come to that. I am in no way criticising the sensible things that the Government have said and have tried to do. They have a role as the ultimate guarantor of the freedom of the scientist to fulfil obligations that the Government have laid on industry. That may need further action.
The Select Committee report carries forward the battle on many fronts. My point is a small proviso and certainly not a criticism. The necessary work of the integration of science and society to which the report has contributed so much should not blind us to the fact that sometimes we will have to stick in our heels and
Lord Bragg: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, on his characteristically incisive and witty maiden speech. I have been acquainted with him over the years and always admired his cultural range and intellectual generosity, both of which were on display in your Lordships' House this morning. His is the sort of mind that one hopes for from a fellow of All Souls. His career in another place was most distinguished, especially in the field of science. I am sure that all your Lordships join me in looking forward to his further participation in debates here in this senior assembly.
I, too, greatly welcome the debate. I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for such a comprehensive opening speech about such an excellent report. It is crucial to find ways to join science and society. At the moment, the debate is characterised too often as science versus society. To declare an interest, or rather a starting point, I speak as the president of the Science Media Centre, based in the Royal Institution in London. The centre was set up last year to provide a focal point from which scientists can explain the nature of their work and discuss its consequences with the press and the media. We have support from many other illustrious groups and institutions, including the Royal Society, whose president sits on our board. We seek no grant from the Government. Our aim is to do something very difficult, which others do in different ways: to explain clearly what is often rarefied, tentative, highly intellectual, even abstruse work that could directly affect the lives of millions. We try to bring science to those--all of us--who benefit from it, but who need to be informed and to be answered.
That brings us to the media. It is in that area that I shall offer the unschooled opinions of a non-scientist. The fascination of the debate is that we are dealing with the most profound and at the same time the most diurnal, even mundane parts of our minds, our natures and our lives. Science hints at and even gives us human possibilities once reserved for gods and goddesses. It also promises, at the most exhilarating basic level, to feed the millions who now starve, to cure the millions who are now sick and to solve what for millennia has been thought insoluble--and all by the application of the mind and the just implementation of the rewards of that mental labour. We are quite simply in an age when what were once thought of as marvels can be reached by what were once thought of as miracles. Magic has become realism, and that can be alarming.
We are also in an age when fears can be more widely, more insidiously and more effectively propagated than ever before. Some of those fears have foundations that have to be taken seriously. For example, although it is wholly right for scientists to make a clear distinction between nuclear energy and the nuclear bomb, there is no doubt that the understandable terror at the
It could be argued that the best way through that is via education. Let the schools and universities do that work and all will be well. In the long run, that is the best path, but, as Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead. Meanwhile, we have the media.
Despite the understandable criticism made by several of your Lordships--with much of which I align myself--there is some very good matter in the media: television programmes such as "Horizon" and "Equinox", several of Radio 4's programmes and the quality of Roger Highfield in the Telegraph, Nigel Hawkes in The Times, Tim Radford in the Guardian and Steve Connor in the Independent. I could go on. There is great quality, underlined by the fact that we live in a period when many scientists of considerable reputation are well able and willing to produce books and programmes for a hungry general public. It would be invidious to list that roll of communicating honour, but we live in a golden time of great scientific generalisers, one of the foremost being my noble friend Lord Winston, who speaks so eloquently in our debates.
And yet, an academic of the eminence of Dr Susan Greenfield, the first woman director of the Royal Institution, and other very fine academics whose work is also generously aimed at the generality--such as Professors Peter Atkins and Steve Jones, Chris Leaver and Paul Matthews, Sir Martin Rees, Sir Robert May and others--have come together to give time and energy to the new Science Media Centre, because, despite everything, they do not think that science is getting its meaning and message across with the force and depth that it should. Like many of your Lordships, I agree with them.
It is too simplistic to say that the media is all the problem. In today's society, the burden of informing rests not with the Churches, the Government or the universities, but with the media. Scientists see--late, some of them, but better late than never, I hope--that often their own sense of being an enclosed order and their perhaps over-protective sense of the complexity of their enterprise, perhaps even--dare one say it?--once or twice their own arrogance, have not helped the cause that they serve. For their part, the media, while often the midwife to many an honest new child of science, have their own agenda, which is often that the best story is the worst story.
Here I speak carefully as someone who has benefited greatly from the efforts of scientists to reach a wider, largely ignorant public of which I am a member. However, there are still scientists who regard public inquiries as an interference and a bit of an outrage to their holy order. As the new Science Media Centre will attempt to emphasise, it is important that replies such as, "I'll find out for you over the two or three next
There is no doubt that there is a growing media interest in science. However, one must acknowledge the media's constraints--deadlines, competition, and stories that grab the attention. Over time, perhaps, there will be room for the more lengthy background pieces which everyone in your Lordships' House would welcome, when the broadsheets supplant sport with science and the redtops elbow topless models for technology.
Until that time comes, it is essential that the media have a resource which can be quick, accurate and articulate and which provides the names of those whose comment carries weight. That is what the Science Media Centre aims to do. I can think of no better service to science today than to see it represented and mediated to the public at large at its best and not in fragments, fall-out or fake storms and phoney tempests.
Of course, this issue has an economic dimension which is of crucial importance to this country. Put bluntly, if ignorance stirred to hysteria by sensationalism were to get in the driving seat, thousands of highly skilled and remarkable opportunities for self-fulfilment, wealth creation and knowledge formation would be lost. The more we know, the more we can make of what we know. There is the sniff of the born-again Luddite in the air, and that could be destructive to our future as a trading country whose increasing wealth depends increasingly on its brains.
Profound questions of morality also arise, which others in your Lordships' House are more capable of analysing than am I, as exemplified by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. I plead only that that be proportionate. As we know from our own western history, dogmatic moral codes have often been the enemy not only of understanding but of the great benefits available to mankind. It is important to emphasise that scientists, as citizens, are fully responsible members of the moral community. My experience is that they take that responsibility very seriously.
This is a serious debate. Today's science is hurtling forward on a mission which has a fury about it. Those of us who are nowhere near the control centre but on the same planet need to know. If we are denied full knowledge, our fear and our ignorance could spoil or even abort the huge searches and discoveries being made. If we are given the knowledge, we can be part of a critical and, therefore, helpful community serving a democracy of the mind. I welcome and commend this report and hope that its findings take root.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I rise, first, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Waldegrave on his elegant, informed, thoughtful and uncontroversial maiden speech. I knew him as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1992-94 and at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1994-95, frequently battering on his door on behalf of the consumer. He received us with good grace, listened and, whenever possible, acted to give us what we wanted. Therefore, I regard him as a great friend. I look forward very much to his future contributions to your Lordships' House. I believe that he will be a marvellous asset here.
I was delighted and honoured to be invited to join the Science and Technology Committee's investigation into science and society, so ably chaired and so ably described by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. We started our work just at the time when unsegregated grain--a mixture of genetically modified and unmodified grain--had been sold into the European Union.
As president of the National Federation of Consumer Groups and, for the past six years, chairman of the National Consumer Council, I felt the full impact of the fury of the British and European consumer groups when they realised that the manufacturers of thousands of products would not be able to identify and label products as being modified or not, thereby wiping out consumer choice in that area.
The floodgates opened, and all the fury which was building up against the science community--particularly government science--was released. The public reaction, expressed, encouraged and fuelled by the media, seemed out of all proportion to the nature of the complaint--labelling. However, on this occasion, that was not the environmentalists' complaint; it was the desire of the domestic consumer to have choice and adequate information on which to base that choice.
Due to the frightening side-effects of thalidomide, the possibility of contracting CJD from beef, genetically modified grain and, during the course of our inquiry, the promise of stem cell research and the moral dilemmas of cloning, the domestic consumer felt out of control of his food chain, his health and even the body parts of his dead relatives.
Here in Britain, ours is a very secret society. Our National Health Service chooses our drugs in secret. "Trust me, I'm a doctor", becomes a threat, not a promise. Our politicians soothe the public: "There is no risk; you're safe with this". Therefore, eventually the consumer completely loses trust in government science.
As we heard, our committee took that very seriously. Our scientists are the best in the world. If they are to be mistrusted, underfunded, demonised and hounded, we shall all be the poorer. We have owed our lives to them and their research, and in the future they will earn us our living. Many British jobs in the future will be dependent on our being at the cutting edge of science and technology.
I am fully supportive of all the recommendations in our report that we made to your Lordships' House and to the Government. At last, we have a Freedom of Information Act in this country, albeit watered down almost to the point, in some areas, of uselessness. However, it provides a starting point on which to build and campaign and on which to improve access to information, information, information. In plain English, it provides answers and explanations to the questions that the British consumer wants answered.
I believe that if scientists are to be recognised and acclaimed as they should be, they must listen to the fears and concerns that people have. They must place their knowledge within the moral and ethical concerns of the public. They must view the dialogue with the public and its representatives as being as important as publishing their findings in Nature, as finding acceptance with their peers or, occasionally, as being invited to appear on the excellent programmes of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, which go out on BBC radio, but after nine o'clock in the morning when the general public has gone to work.
Yes, the public is ignorant about science. It is ignorant about what is going on. But whose fault is that? When science shouts "Eureka", it should enable the audience to hear, see and understand the new discovery, knowledge or application. It is time that science went to "Eastenders", "Coronation Street", "The Bill", "The Archers", the Sun, Good Housekeeping and The Big Issue. Science and society--I am all for it, and I commend this report to the House.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, on his maiden speech. I also knew him from another side of the table. I was a member of Save British Science and, in delegation of a part of Save British Science, I pleaded with him for a better deal for British science. Indeed, I believe that we obtained that when he became the Minister for Science.
I also share his views, both on the loss of the power, in some senses, of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, once it was put firmly within the DTI and lost its independence and its representation in the Cabinet. Like the noble Lord, I believe that that was rather a shame for British science, and it would be a very good thing if it were restored to the position which it had originally under the noble Lord. Secondly, I also join him in his views about the dangers of accountability in centralisation. I believe that this House will probably return to that issue on many occasions.
I congratulate not only the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, on his maiden speech, but also the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, and his committee on what I consider to be an excellent report. It has, as the noble Lord said, already had a wide impact, and several important actions have been taken to implement it. It is quite something for the recommendations of a report by a Select Committee of this House to be implemented so quickly. The
At the centre of the report is the conundrum that was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. Although the general public display more interest in developments in science, scientists have lost the confidence of the general public. Why? If we want to put our finger on the reason, the seminal point was probably the BSE crisis. As the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, made clear, other relevant issues, including nuclear waste and nuclear power, go back further. The attitudes taken by some of those who preached in this context in earlier days are also relevant.
Perhaps because I come from the stable of the social scientists I enormously welcome the report's recognition of the fact that social scientists can play a useful part in the debate--they have interesting things to say. I welcomed in particular the recognition that the phrase, "the public understanding of science", is condescending. I thought that other noble Lords might have quoted from paragraph 3.9, but they have not. It states:
In your Lordships' House, the Select Committee is a prime example of the way in which the lay public can appear side by side with knowledgeable scientists to discuss issues. The fact that those issues are examined in depth and that all sides are analysed means that the reports are balanced and representative. Perhaps such open dialogue should be pursued more often.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, instanced the debate in this House on stem cell research. Many noble Lords look back on that debate as one of the high points of this Session. It was a brilliant debate, in which the issues were discussed equably but thoroughly and the highest decisions were covered. Such wide-ranging and open debates should take place more often.
On the other side, we must recognise the points that were made by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. He referred to the need to take into account the arrogance that scientists occasionally display. The report notes that in their day, Galileo and Charles Darwin were condemned by their mainstream
The noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, said that we must be aware of the fact that scientists can never be certain. We are concerned with probabilities. The deficit approach, which seeks to fill the ground with more knowledge, does not work.
We must try to ground our young people in the methods of science. The noble Baronesses, Lady Platt and Lady Greengross, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, said that the report touches on the role of education and the science curriculum in schools. There are currently worries about the science curriculum. Although it is splendid that the national curriculum has put science in a central position, there is a danger that it is being squeezed out in junior schools by the literacy and numeracy curriculum.
There are two worries about secondary schools in this context. First, a falling proportion of those taking A-levels study science. More pupils in total take science A- levels because there are now more students, but the proportion has reduced. The report asked whether the curriculum for the traditional sciences, especially physics, was the right one. Secondly, we are aware of the need for the broad curriculum to continue for as long as possible. The changes to AS-levels in the lower sixth forms are an important step forward. We shall have to see how that system works out. I am a little sorry that we did not go the whole hog and go for an equivalent to the international baccalaureate, which would have offered a broader curriculum all of the way through the education system.
If we are to accept that science can never be certain, we must, as a population, understand the concept of probability. When I was in America--I spent four years there--I was struck, when we first got there, by the fact that weather forecasts were always given in terms of probabilities. That was a useful way to school the general public in the concepts of probability. I am glad that weather forecasting in this country is moving in that direction.
The need for an open dialogue is important, and freedom of information plays a significant part in that regard. When my colleagues search for information, they frequently use American sources because the American Freedom of Information Act, which has been in operation for a long time, enables them to obtain much information, often from UK sources. I
Other noble Lords have spoken at length about the media. I do not want to speak at any length about developments in the media. Until I read this report, I had not realised the degree to which the "Frankenstein foods" debate was contrived as part of the circulation war. Perhaps I was being rather naive but I had not realised that; nor had I realised the degree to which the science correspondents of the two newspapers concerned had been cut out of the debate. I echo strongly the thoughts of my noble friend Lord Taverne in relation to those issues.
We have had a very good debate. This an important and seminal report. It has, rightly, already had extensive influence in opening up the debate on scientific issues and the handling of scientific decision-taking. In that respect, the Government have endorsed the majority of the recommendations in a long and thoughtful response which is so different from the response which we had only 10 days ago from the Treasury to my own Select Committee's report on the developments within the euro. I am delighted to see how thoughtfully the Government have responded here.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I add my congratulations to those of the three noble Lords who have spoken since the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Waldegrave. There is no way that I can add any more to what they have said so eloquently.
I join with other noble Lords who have congratulated the committee on its excellent and perceptive report which has been so well and warmly received. In particular, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Jenkin on the excellent way in which he introduced the debate today. My noble friend Lord Selborne mentioned that he is a layman. I too am a layman but a much less experienced layman than the noble Earl. I came to this report not because I wanted to but because I had to, in anticipation of my response today. I found it very easy reading. It was extremely clear. I hope that it is disseminated much more widely among the general public.
The report emphasises heavily the need for better communication by scientists, either as individuals or by scientific bodies and learned societies and by the Office of Science and Technology and the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science.
There is yet another aspect of the lack of understanding of science by the public--even the almost superstitious fear--either because they are ill-informed or badly informed or misinformed about it. The example which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, gave of being attacked outside this House is a real example of that kind of thing. It shows us what happens to people when they really do not understand what the issues are.
In many cases, that fear is fuelled by the media, and many noble Lords have mentioned that. We only have to look at the example which so many noble Lords have given today of "Frankenstein foods". I find quite extraordinary the fear of genetically modified crops, because every morsel of food we eat these days has been genetically modified since the time 6,000 years ago when the first farmer made a hole in the ground with a stick and dropped a seed into it. Seedless grapes, nectarines, miniature tomatoes and types of potatoes are all genetically modified. Therefore, I find it absolutely amazing that the media are able to whip up public fear on one side of the issue without having any knowledge of the other side.
Of course it is right that the report draws attention to the shortcomings of the press on that issue. It is right also that the creation of new types of seeds--essential to feed the growing world population--should be carefully controlled and regulated in order to protect the environment, with the benefit of the doubt always being given to the environment.
Many modifications are really beneficial but, of course, they do not attract the press's attention. That is the problem. Only this past weekend Greenpeace has conceded that its objections to the so-called golden rice--that is, rice enriched with vitamin A--may be costing the sight of 50,000 people per month in the third world. I was pleased to see that, quite rightly, it has withdrawn its objections; but not before time.
In its report, the committee quite rightly and comprehensively, in Chapter 4, draws attention to the problems caused when scientists suppress uncertainty. That problem was also highlighted in the 1997 report of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government. But the problem is that when a scientist is asked to guarantee that there is absolutely no risk in something or other and truthfully says that there cannot be 100 per cent certainty of anything in life, then the headlines scream out something like, "Leading scientist admits that widgets are dangerous". That is the problem. Pages 34 and 35 of the report highlight the problem of communicating the uncertainty and risk. That is a very important section of the report.
What is also wrong, and certainly not helpful, is the sort of hyperbole indulged in recently by the Health Secretary of the Alder Hey Hospital report. Before it was even published, he was preconditioning the public and the media by announcing that it was the most appalling report that he had ever read.
Let there be no misunderstanding: the wanton and unnecessary stripping of bodies of organs, adults as well as children, merely to store them in hospital basements is totally unacceptable to a civilised society.
It has also resulted in the drying-up of organ donations, temporarily we hope, which the Government are now desperately trying to reverse by a hastily convened conference. What has been highlighted is the need for informed consent from relatives which--all the indications are--would be given if only they knew what those donations were required for. That is another example of what is talked about in the report--the need for knowledge for the public and giving them the information they require in relation to those important matters.
The whole thrust of the report and its main theme is of creating public confidence by clear and open communication, never mind the problem that a large proportion of the public do not understand the issues. As the committee said:
To my mind, a most important point in the report is the observation that society's relationship with science is in a critical stage because public confidence in the scientific advice which the Government receive has been rocked by BSE, biotechnology and even IT.
It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, made a slight mistake when he referred to my honourable friend Tim Yeo making an apology for the first time. I know for certain that he has done that before and I am sure that the noble Lord overlooked that.
The report quite rightly does not aim to establish the merits of particular positions on key issues such as GM foods. Rather it has looked at the way those positions are formed to recommend how the process can be improved. That comes down to five main points. First, there is a need to create a new culture of dialogue between scientists and the public.
My noble friend Lady Platt told of the difficulties of dialogue between even two scientists and maybe between scientists and engineers. It is easy to say what should happen. It is not always easy to get that result. Secondly, there is a need for scientists to heed public values and attitudes, to which I should add well-informed values and attitudes. Thirdly, there is a need for science to take note of the current crisis of confidence that I have just mentioned. Fourthly, there is a need for all scientific advisory and decision-making bodies to adopt a transparent and open approach, which means no more arrogantly saying, "Trust us; we know best". My noble friend Lady Wilcox mentioned that. Unfortunately, some of the stories we have heard lately mean that it is not quite so easy automatically to trust one's doctor, although one would like to be able to. Fifthly, there is a need for a more constructive attitude between science, scientists and the media. That is clearly important.
Time does not permit me to go into those points in detail but, in summary they call for improvement in five areas. The first is the public understanding of science; the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned the importance of science in schools. I believe that the report states that there should not be such a drive for the standards in numeracy that science gets squeezed out in primary schools. I think it is important to start with children at an early age. The second area is that of frankly communicating about uncertainty and risk. The report makes good suggestions about that. The third area is engaging the public. All noble Lords have referred to that. The fourth area is dealing with science and the media, to which I shall return. The fifth area is science education in schools, which I have just mentioned.
The need for partnerships between industry, universities and the public is not a new concept simply of this Government. As a result of the 1993 White Paper on scientific engineering technology, the Technology and Foresight programme came about. A White Paper entitled Creating the Superhighways of the Future was published in 1994. The Information Society initiative was launched in 1996. Funding for science and engineering rose by 10 per cent in real terms between 1987 and 1997. I do not think that parties on either side should claim that they have done it all. In a subject such as this which is important for all mankind, it is right that every government do their very best and build on what has been done before. That is a very good thing.
The report we are debating today was published around the time that the public furore about body parts broke out, and was certainly written well before then. The committee is to be congratulated on its prescience in identifying the problem of public perception, because that is what it is all about. It says (I paraphrase), "A meaningful response requires us to go beyond event-based initiatives like consensus conferences or citizens' juries".
We can all support that objective, but we need not only a changed and better-informed attitude by the media; we also need more activity on behalf of the scientific community to be less secretive; to indulge in a proper public relations exercise, which I think is
If we have a state of play in which scientists know that they have to be less secretive; in which they work harder on public relations; in which the public are more confident because of that; and in which the media take note of the new guidelines, perhaps everything for which the report asks will come about.
The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, first perhaps I may apologise to the House for not being in my place when the debate started. I had been informed by the Whips' Office that the debate would start at 11.30. I hope that the House will accept that my absence was due to a lack of critical approach to information from the Whips' Office rather than from any discourtesy intended to this House. After the debate I shall take up with the Whips' Office what I shall do if that ever happens again.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, on his excellent maiden speech. It was worthy of someone who, it is generally agreed by the scientific community, was the best, or at least one of the best, science ministers this country has had in recent years.
The Government are grateful to the Select Committee for the thorough study it has conducted into this important issue and for its excellent report. It has made an extremely valuable contribution to this important debate. I add my thanks to those of the rest of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for ably leading this debate.
Many of the committee's recommendations are in line with existing initiatives of the Government. The report influenced the development of policies set out in the science and innovation White Paper published last July. The report also highlights important areas that require further action, not just by the Government but by the science community as a whole. I am pleased to say that the Government and the science community are taking up the challenge with enthusiasm.
Like the authors of the report, I believe that we must move beyond the "public understanding of science" to a dialogue between scientists and the public about science. This must involve scientists understanding the public, as well as the public understanding science, and it must involve a debate about the benefits, risks and values of science as well as the science itself. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that the movement which is now characterised as the public
I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who was accused of assault outside the House of Commons. I thought that, in terms of the two Houses and the wider public debate, the debate on stem cells was a model of what should be taking place. There are two reasons for that. The first is the careful preparation which took place. We had not only the report from the Human Genetics Advisory Committee but also the Donaldson report which clearly set out the arguments and the science. Secondly, it was an opportunity for all the interested groups to put forward their views in the public arena. That led to an excellent debate and the right decision.
Many agencies, independent bodies, companies and individuals who work in the area of science communication have also responded positively to the report. I refer, for example, to the publication of the Social Issues Research Centre/Royal Institution guidelines on science reporting, which followed discussions on this issue between SIRC, the Press Complaints Commission, the Royal Society and others. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I heard about it only yesterday when I received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham.
I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Taverne and Lord Bragg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that a key part of the issue is the role of newspapers and television. It was always one of the weaknesses of the public understanding of science movement that it believed that small meetings around the country addressed by eminent scientists could somehow correct the situation. Of course, the fact is that most people gain most of their knowledge of science after their period of education from newspapers and television. That is why this is such an important area.
I received the guidelines only yesterday and therefore have had only a cursory glance at them. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that they appear to be extremely good and to point journalists in the right directions. They recommend that journalists state any limitations or caveats about the information they give, preferably within the first few lines of a report or press release. As we heard in the stem cell debate, that is important in particular where findings which are preliminary and have not been peer reviewed differ markedly from previous findings or are based on small, unrepresentative or animal samples, or have found only a statistical correlation. We must try to get those facts into more press reporting. Clearly, the task must be to ensure that the guidelines are properly disseminated and in force.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, about the need to provide journalists faced with tight deadlines with sources of information. I welcome the setting up of the Science Media Centre. I also welcome the fact
I turn to the issues which have been raised and shall deal first with the challenge of improved dialogue. The first step to having a fruitful and constructive dialogue with the public is to discover their views. The Office of Science and Technology had done exactly that by commissioning, with the Wellcome Trust, a major survey of public attitudes to science and technology.
That shows that, as a whole, the public believe that science brings benefit to their lives. However, they also believe that better communication between scientists and other members of the public is required. While two-thirds of people believe that scientists want to make life better for the average person, a similar proportion agree that scientists should listen more to what the ordinary people think--a view reflected clearly in the committee's report.
As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, there is some good news from the complementary survey by the Wellcome Trust, supported by the OST, of the views of scientists about public debate. Eighty-four per cent of scientists questioned believed that they had a duty to communicate the results and implications of their work to the public, and more than half of them have done so in the past year. Almost six in 10 scientists said that they would like to spend more time on public dialogue activities.
The research councils are jointly commissioning a study on how best to engage a range of different public audiences in dialogue across a spectrum of issues in scientific research. The output of the study will include advice on how the councils can best take note of, and incorporate, public views into their thinking. However, I do not agree with the idea that there should be a separate stream of funding for science communication, or that we should try to build it into the research assessment exercise. The latter is complicated enough already and to use criteria other than the excellence of research is a mistake.
However, like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, the Government are hopeful that change within COPUS will now pick up pace. I shall meet COPUS in the near future to discuss its plans and urge it to move forward as quickly as possible, particularly in the formulation of a strategy about science communication. By "strategy", I mean no more than that we should try to understand who should do what and to avoid duplication of effort.
As the committee's report notes, if people are to have a confident relationship with science it is important that there are plenty of opportunities for them to learn about recent scientific developments and to debate their value. We must develop more ways to do this, and make full use of those that already exist. Young people--the decision-makers of the future--are key participants in dialogue about science. As we announced in the science and innovation White Paper, the Government are to make 2001-02 Science Year and will launch a new Science and Engineering
The second challenge set out in the report is the need for greater openness and transparency in decision-making. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that the key is information, information and information. Scientists constantly tell me that they would like to have their own "soap" or to appear on television. One must be asked to do the latter. However, many scientists would love to have a "soap" about them and their working lives. I hope that one day programme-makers can be persuaded to provide it.
The public attitude survey told us that most people's views of scientists and engineers are quite positive, and failures of confidence are focused on the system, especially concerns about the Government's ability to regulate science effectively. A number of high profile issues, of which BSE is probably the most notable, have eroded public trust and confidence in the way that science is handled and regulated. The Government are committed to learning the lessons from these controversies and to improving the way in which science is used in policy making. Public trust is vital to progress and innovation. That trust is easily lost and hard to win back. We must neither dismiss people's concerns nor exaggerate them.
The Government place particular importance on the effective use of scientific advice in decision-making. We want to build public confidence in science by providing an independent and transparent system of regulation and by encouraging debate on the ethical and social issues. Last year probably the most important action taken by the Government in this area was to set up the Human Genetics Commission and the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission. Those bodies are now up and running and will have a key role to play in consulting the public about developments in biotechnology. The Food Standards Agency has also established a rigorous culture of openness and public dialogue. I am not aware of the issue relating to the terms of reference. I shall write to the noble Baroness and place a copy in the Library. These bodies, which face a challenging task, bring together widely different views on very difficult issues, and work under public view. The Government will watch their work closely to see what lessons in public dialogue on these issues can be translated into other areas.
Last week, the Government published their interim response to the BSE inquiry which ushers in a period of consultation. Many of the key themes in the Phillips report echo those in the committee's report on science and society, such as the way in which the Government use scientific advice, openness, and the communication of risk. Many of the lessons from Phillips are either already addressed through Guidelines 2000, outlined in the initial proposals for a code of practice for scientific advisory committees, or will be addressed when drafting the text of the code of practice for a second round of consultation in March. But the Government believe that we have a long way to go in building public trust, and we are very keen to look at new initiatives.
Perhaps I may respond to one or two of the other points made in the debate. I agree very firmly with my noble friend Lord Winston about the importance of conveying to the public the need for animal experimentation. We have tighter controls for that in this country than does any other country. We should make it clear that no animal experiment takes places without three licences and without a very careful cost/benefit analysis of its value. People should remember that the Thalidomide tragedy would never have taken place if we had had in place that same tight control on animal experimentation.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, about the importance of the study on risk perception. As a result of that work, which is now very developed, particularly in America, there is a very clear understanding that people have a completely different view of risk where they feel it is not within their choice or control. One of the issues that most affected the debate on GM foods was the announcement that soya could come into this country and that it would be impossible to tell whether or not it was modified. People felt that they no longer had a choice. That was one of the matters that vastly heightened their sense of the risk involved. I am glad to say that the interdepartmental liaison group on risk assessment will shortly be co-ordinating an analysis of recent research on risk assessment and how people see it. That is a most important move.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln that truth, wonderment and morality are excellent common grounds when considering these issues. However, I would say that even in the process of discovery one can have moral issues raised, as in the case obviously of animal experimentation, and as was very clear in the question of research on stem cells. Therefore, even the process of discovery can raise moral issues.
We must avoid the idea that we can carry out a cost/benefit analysis of scientific research. The whole history of science shows that one cannot do that; that the really "break-through" discoveries come in areas where they are least expected. I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, made that point.
I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about the importance of research on ageing from the viewpoint of society. That is particularly important in the case of problems such as Alzheimer's disease. We know that with an ageing society this will become a very much more prevalent problem unless we can find a cure.
I clearly very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, that the science Minister should be in the Cabinet. I thought that was a totally uncontroversial view and therefore very suitable for a maiden speech. However, I am not certain that there is one right place to put science within government. In this country we have tried it, first, with education, next in the Cabinet and then in the DTI. The Japanese had it in the Cabinet for very many years and have now put it in education. Practically every country moves it around every so often. I am inclined to think that there is not one right answer and that structure in this case is less important than the value one attaches to it.
I do not think that we are giving a diminishing role to basic research. As the White Paper made clear, we think that curiosity-driven research is fundamental to the excellence of the science base and that one does not get more innovation by switching funds from basic to applied research. In my view, the first job of a science Minister is to maintain the excellence of the science base.
Perhaps I may respond to the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, about the duplication of effort in the communication of science. The Government agree that we must make better use of the resources available in this area. That is why I asked the OST to review science communication activity in the UK. The results of that work carried out with the Wellcome Trust were published last October in the report Science and the Public and I hope will lead to greater co-ordination in the future.
Science is threaded through every aspect of our lives. If we are to achieve the full benefits of new scientific advances, we need citizens who have a confident relationship with science. The Government are determined to restore trust and confidence by listening to the opinions, concerns and priorities of the public, by being open and transparent about the way scientific decisions are taken, and by involving people in social and ethical decision-making. The report gave us considerable help in how to achieve those objectives. I thank the committee for challenging us to do better and helping us to move forward.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, at this hour on a Friday afternoon when there is another important debate to follow, I am sure the House will understand that I must be extremely brief. I want to make only three points.
I should like to say a warm thank you to those who extended a personal welcome to me. I reacted to the phrase of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who referred to the contribution of science to longevity. That is why I am able to be with the House today.
I am grateful to all those who took part in the debate. It has been a good debate and will repay proper study. I join all those who offered congratulations to my noble friend Lord Waldegrave. His speech was entirely characteristic of his intellectual abilities and his great common sense. I hope that we will not have to wait too long before we hear from him again.
I join the whole of the committee in saying that we have been greatly heartened by the warm welcome given to the report. I want to pick up one point. It concerns the new guidelines. It is quite unclear whether we now have two sets of operative guidelines. That is a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter. Those who have produced the new guidelines have some fence mending to do. I am glad that the Minister is to meet the people in COPUS because that is precisely the kind of job that that body, following its review, should take ahead and put into practice.
I agree with the Minister. These are good new guidelines. There is a strong emphasis on health--perhaps understandable because all the leading medical bodies were involved. The point made to me by the Press Complaints Commission was that they sit easily alongside its own guidelines. If that is so, and if the Royal Society can perhaps be persuaded that this may be the right way forward, we shall have in place a valuable new mechanism to improve relations between science and the press. That is all I intend to say.