Policy and the humanities: the nexus between past and future

Written by Dr Clare Moran, CSaP Policy Fellowships Coordinator.

The sun was shining on Buckingham House, Murray Edwards College, as we gathered for the Centre for Science and Policy’s 2015 Annual Conference: How can government make better use of expertise and evidence from the humanities. The conference explored the convergence of past and future, furthering CSaP’s vision of greater engagement between science and policy in the august setting of the University of Cambridge. Appropriately we were hosted by two modernist colleges built with the future in mind. Both colleges were founded on the Enlightenment values that guide CSaP’s work, the first to provide a ‘third foundation’ for women’s education at Cambridge (Murray Edwards, 1954), and the second to provide a dedicated home for science and technology within the University (Churchill, 1960). The past would also take us to Churchill for the evening reception, which was held as part of the Churchill 2015 programme commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

Back to the present, the day began with coffee on the terrace suffused by an atmosphere of anticipation, bringing 200 attendees together from multiple sectors – academia, central government, local government, the European Commission, startups, industry, and think tanks. Opening the conference to a full house, Dr Rob Doubleday, CSaP Executive Director, outlined the many activities through which the Centre engages with the humanities. He also noted that CSaP Policy Fellows, visiting Cambridge to consult with researchers, frequently find they gain the most from the conversations they least expect to, which is often conversations with the humanities and the more ‘interpretive’ end of the social sciences. These observations only highlight the value of the conference in showcasing the potential contribution of the humanities to policy in all its guises. Conference partner and sponsor the British Academy also welcomed attendees, with Dr Natasha McCarthy, Head of Policy, highlighting the contributions of the policy-oriented research the Academy sponsors and conducts.

The first session, ‘what do the humanities have to offer?’, was chaired by the ebullient Professor Tim Lewens and opened by Professor Simon Szreter. As co-Founder of History and Policy, he outlined what history can offer policy – and how History and Policy’s activities with Whitehall and Downing Street demonstrated this. Professor Szreter argued the importance of “collective undisciplined memory”, illustrating this by contextualising contemporary welfare discourse against historical narratives. Next, Emeritus Professor Paul Cartledge demonstrated the value of cultural self-understanding with a romp through the Classics, received with laughter by an appreciative audience. The ‘honorary citizen of Sparta’ finished by reminding us of the humanistic and humanitarian values often curtailed from the famous line “an unexamined life is not worth living for a human being”. Emeritus Professor Robin Grove-White brought us from the ancient world right through modernity to the future, as he highlighted the role of the humanities in managing and legislating for the complexities of transformative technological innovation. He stressed the value of culturally refined or culturally attuned perspectives uniquely offered by humanities and social science disciplines. Dr Wendy Pullan closed the session, using reconstructed maps and archive materials to illuminate the long-term damage done to cities and their populations by ‘peace walls’ as a short-termist policy solution adopted by desperate decision-makers around the world.

After meeting other delegates and assessing postgraduate posters over lunch, we were back for the second session, focused on ‘what does policy making stand to gain?’ Our humorous chair for the afternoon was former Cabinet Secretary Lord Wilson, who took the opportunity to press his concern about potholes onto our first speaker, Director of Local Transport at the DfT Graham Pendlebury. A CSaP Policy Fellowship alum and the first serving civil servant of the day, Graham made light work of introducing the policy process to the mixed audience. We learnt that 75% of those employed by the civil service generalist graduate entry scheme have humanities or social sciences degrees, so already bring these perspectives into policy decision-making. Professor Catherine Barnard also focused our mind on the application of humanities and social science research, using EU law to debunk immigration stereotypes and noting these facts had not stopped current ‘toxic’ political campaigning. Policy Fellow Fabrizio Sestini’s presentation on digital social innovation opened a lively Q&A which drew in panel members to interrogate the ideas presented. One theme explored (prompted by John Naughton, CRASHH) was the gap between the potential of the internet and the trivial use we have made of it. Lord Wilson brought the panel to a close, drawing on his experience to stress that “what government lacks is the time to think”, and advocating the enormous scope for governments to be enlightened through dialogue with researchers.

The conference then provided three parallel sessions exploring complex and contentious policy issues, Art and memory: conflict and conflict resolution; Understanding the financial future with lessons from the past; and The multiple dimensions of climate change.

The climate change session, chaired by Professor James Wilsdon, was a microcosm of the conference themes. Professor Arthur Petersen gave a fascinating account of being a “humane observer” of IPCC meetings, and the dialogic process of building consensus amongst different countries, representing different worldviews. The finance session was characterised by that unique combination of privilege and porosity that the University of Cambridge affords. It started from the premise that further financial crises were inevitable, and we were treated to an expert analysis of crisis from Dr William Janeway and Professor Barry Eichengreen, visiting from UC Berkeley as 2014-15 Pitt Professor at the University of Cambridge. Joining them was current Policy Fellow Dr Rachel King, who amongst a rich account of her Fellowship also revealed the startling fact that 50% of staff at Her Majesty’s Treasury were not in post at the time of the last general election in 2010. This was followed by high-level, esteemed debate between the panel and audience. It was a very honest, funny, interrogation of such issues as the budgetary cycle and whether the discipline of economics still had any legitimacy following the recessions of the last decade. The debate raised issues that crossed not only the humanities but the psychology of risk and decision-making, institutional theory, politics, education, and modes of correspondence with the Queen…

In the late-afternoon sun we left Murray Edwards’ fragrant blooms and traversed two sets of mid-century corridors, transferring to nearby Churchill College for the evening keynote. Attendees’ appetite for discussions had clearly not abated, and there was a busy hum as evening guests joined us for tea in the Buttery. By 6pm we were gathered for the public debate in Wolfson Hall on ‘The role of evidence and analysis in effective policy making’. Throughout the next hour we were treated to an insiders’ view by the prestigious panel, chaired by Dame Athene Donald, Master of Churchill College, with panelists Charles Clarke (Home Secretary, 2004-2006), Lord Peter Hennessy (Historian, Queen Mary University of London), Sir Richard Mottram (former Permanent Secretary and Visiting Professor, LSE), and Lord Richard Wilson (Cabinet Secretary, 1998-2002). We were thoroughly entertained by the panel’s frank responses to the topic and to one another, not least by their recollections of colleagues, spies, and Tommy Cooper.


This event marked the beginning of Churchill College’s contribution to the Churchill 2015 Global Leadership Programme. In the audience were twenty junior civil servants who had been selected to attend the following day’s professional development event, Joined up scientific advice for 21st century leaders’. The event was co-hosted by CSaP with Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, and Professor Athene Donald, Master of Churchill College.

The reception that followed was alive with discussion of the keynote and the day’s full programme. Towards the end of the evening I was reminded of an adage we used at St Andrews when teaching management as a critical social science, which was that if you made a difference to the thinking of just one person, that represented the achievement of the goal to enlighten and engage. In conversations at the reception I came across an example of that one person: a scholar from the Bodleian Libraries, who had discovered the conference through the British Academy and had never before considered the policy relevance of his own work. He was enthused by what he had seen and heard during the day, and it was a reminder that no matter how well-rehearsed some of the ‘two communities’ arguments might be, it will always be the case that people are encountering these issues anew. Overhearing others’ conversations, it was clear that whatever their perspective on arrival, by conference close participants were impressed by the value of the humanities and social sciences within policy. As the sun set we remained on into the balmy evening, spilling out onto Churchill’s expansive grounds to reflect on the day’s journey through enjoyable and occasionally enchanting moments at the nexus between past and future.

Dr Clare Moran is a policy-engaged researcher, Policy Fellowships Coordinator at the Centre for Science and Policy, and a Fellow of the RSA. To hear the speakers and see a summary of each session please visit the CSaP news pages.

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Enriching and informing society: what do the humanities have to offer?

Written by Ben Earley, CSaP Research Assistant.

This year, our annual conference kicked off with a panel on Enriching and informing society: what do the humanities have to offer? Chaired by Professor Tim Lewens (HSPS), the panel sought to explore in greater depth the type of knowledge humanities researchers’ produce and the value of this output to the policy profession.

You can listen to a recording of the talk here: //sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1957863/embed

“Using history without consulting professional historians is as misleading as doing economic policy without quoting economists” Simon Szreter on the value of history to policy making

Simon SzreterThe first talk was delivered by Simon Szreter Professor of History and Policy at the University of Cambridge and founder of History and Policy. Professor Szreter’s talk focused on the value of history to policy making using the history of the poor laws as an example. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries public provision for the care for the elderly, infirm, and even the unemployed was placed in the hands of local parishes. This care had the effect of stimulating population movement, economic growth, and industrialisation.Professor Szreter reminded the audience that whilst history did not provide an exact analogy for the present it was important to remember that public welfare in Britain has a history that extends far beyond the reforms of Nye Bevan in 1945.

“Ancient historians and classicists have a special right and privilege to speak with some authority on definitions of the humanities because it is from those subject areas that the concept of the humanities have arisen” Paul Cartledge on the definition of the humanities

Paul CartledgePaul Cartledge (A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek culture, emeritus) used his talk to point out that there are many possible definitions of the humanities and that the Greek and Latin classics provide us with a unique perspective on humanity. The ancient world produced the first philosophers, poets, dramatists, historians, and scientists as well as perennial questions which still excite our society today (via the renaissance and enlightenment). Practically speaking Greek and Latin thought provides us with a comparative and sometimes contrasting view of the world that helps us to think through subjects such as our democracy.

“What more can be done to stimulate collective reflection on the social and economic implications of technological change?” Robin Grove-White

Robin Grove WhiteIn his talk Robin Grove-White (Emeritus Professor, Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, University of Lancaster) explored the value of the interpretative social sciences and humanities in the adoption of new technologies from advances in biosciences to nanotechnology. New technologies have the potential to transform economics, society, and even human nature. Professor Grove-White argued that horizon scanning of future developments should be informed intellectual sensibilities rooted in the humanities.

“The humanities embody the cultural value of civilisations” Wendy Pullan on the value of the humanities

Wendy PullanThe final talk was delivered by Wendy Pullan (Head of Department, Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge) on the difficulties of communication between the humanities and policy. Prof Pullan used her study of divided cities to argue for the value of humanities treatment of complexity. Where many sciences attempt to remove complexity through experimentation and other methodologies the humanities revel in the numerous complexities, and even contradictions, that surround particular issues. Indeed, Professor Pullan reminded the audience that often the humanities point towards the chaos and irrationality of many situations. It is the humanities’ embrace of complexity that provides a unique voice to policy makers.

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Humanities at the heart of government: What does policy making stand to gain?

Written by Natalie Miazga, CSaP Policy Intern.

Last week the Centre for Science and Policy held its fourth annual conference at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge.  This year our conference explored opportunities for improving the way government accesses, assesses and makes use of expertise from the humanities, and offered examples of the significant contribution these disciplines have made to public policy.

Earlier in the conference, it had emerged that the worlds of humanities and government were “poles apart”. Reflecting on this, Lord Wilson (chairing the session) highlighted the huge resource in academia from which government could benefit. This session focused on the humanities at the heart of government and what policy making stands to gain.

You can listen to a recording of the discussion here: //sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1957851/embed

“All law is about people; the humanities are fundamentally about people and must be part of policy making”

Graham PendleburyGraham Pendlebury (Department for Transport) discussed the role of the humanities in shaping public policy from the view of a civil servant. He described policy work as a 3-ring circus that consists of evidence, politics and delivery or ‘do-ability’; the art is to become a ring master who can bring all three elements together. He described the principles from humanities that are at the heart of the democratic system of governance, these included justice, rights and freedom. Graham concluded with six brief thoughts and advice for all. He suggested engaging with policy makers on longstanding societal challenges, more urgent topics and issues, and newly emerging areas. He emphasised the need for balanced advice and to always remember the 3-ring circus.

“EU law already contains the flexibility necessary to protect the welfare system against abuse by migrants”

catherine barnardProfessor Catherine Barnard (Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge) provided a worked example of how the humanities can contribute to policy making by addressing the complex and toxic issues surrounding the free movement of workers within the EU. She described the fears around immigration, which include welfare and healthcare tourism. Catherine also described the EU rules around the migration of workers and noted that not all migrants to the UK are the same, because there is a distinction between host state and home state control. She demonstrated the complexity of the subject but highlighted the existing flexibility of EU law and the fact that it is always worth remembering that sometimes migrants have a lot to offer.

“From closed policy making inside the boundary of institutions to open and collaborative policy making”

Fabrizio SestiniThe final talk given by Dr Fabrizio Sestini (European Commission DG Connect) discussed the role of the humanities in policy making in relation to communication networks. He described how ‘hyperconnectivity’ can remove barriers and encourage broader participation, therefore, the use of technology to may enable more collaborative policy process. He explained how different collective awareness platforms can collect and share data directly from citizens, which can be integrated with statistics to make better informed decisions. However, multiple disciplinary challenges exist such as safeguarding privacy for contributors and motivation and incentives for online collaboration.

Lord Wilson concluded the session by noting that the interaction between government and the humanities has the potential to provide enormous scope for rich discourse and how, by having an open dialogue, we can prosper.

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Is there a place for the humanities in climate change policy?

Written by Sarah Connors, CSaP Policy Intern.

Last week’s CSaP annual conference featured a discussion on the multiple dimensions of climate change with a particular focus on the incorporation of the humanities. This session, chaired by Professor James Wilsdon from SPRU at the University of Sussex, welcomed three speakers from backgrounds in both academia and the private sector.

To listen to a recording of this session, click here: //sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1957893/embed

“Issues of equality, justice and fairness arise with respect to mitigation” – IPCC

Arthur Petersen, Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy, kicked off the talks by discussing his experiences with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He observed the processes as a Humanist Observer for the Dutch Government. Intergovernmental processes require the collaboration, negotiation and compromise of representatives across all work fields. Professor Petersen stated that although the IPCC has little input on the role of the humanities in this process, there is a place for ethics and judgement when informing policy representatives. He suggested that scientific advice becomes more reflective, and should incorporate a wider range of evidence when considering the future implications of climate change.

Dr Paul Warde, reader in Early Modern History, then spoke on how historians could have a key role in policy. He used his research experience in the history of energy policy to exemplify this. Historically, the mistakes or successes of previous energy policies seem to never be considered when analysing the then current decision-making processes. Dr Warde stated that prior decisions, even if proved to be ill-advised, seemed to have little impact on a country’s energy regime. This lack of applied hindsight seemed pointed considering current society must now consider our implications on future generations.

“Is there no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?” – William Wordsworth

Amy Mount, Senior Policy Advisor for the Green Alliance, gave a thought provoking talk about how the humanities can contribute to the policy advice process more so than to the content. She drew from a poem written by Wordsworth in protest of a planned extension to the Yorkshire railway in 1844. Although Wordsworth’s poem was unsuccessful in stopping this development, Ms Mount spoke of how she used this poem in a launch event for a Green Alliance report advising on policy for infrastructural development. She admitted the reading performed a similar function as the evidence within the report itself. In her closing remarks, she stated three common and interacting practices which play a critical role in good policy making. These are present in the humanities ‘in a particular modality’ than in other scientific areas: criticism, creativity and curating.

Download the slides here.

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Understanding the financial future with lessons from the past

Written by Henry Rex, CSaP Policy and Communications Officer.

Last week the Centre for Science and Policy held its fourth annual conference at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge.  This year our conference explored opportunities for improving the way government accesses, assesses and makes use of expertise from the humanities, and offered examples of the significant contribution these disciplines have made to public policy.

CSaP’s Founding Director David Cleevely chaired a session on how understanding David Cleevelyfinancial history can help inform future policy making. David was joined on this panel by Dr William Janeway (Warburg Pincus), Professor Barry Eichengreen (University of California, Berkeley) and Dr Rachel King (HM Treasury).

You can listen to a recording of the session here. //sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1957937/embed

“Any tradable asset can be the focus of a bubble”

Dr Janeway gave a talk on “Bubbles: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. He explained the difference between ‘good’, productive bubbles in asset prices, and ‘ugly’, damaging ones. In good bubbles the object of speculation is productive (e.g. technology) and the locus of speculation is in fairly liquid, unleveraged capital markets; whereas in ugly bubbles the object is unproductive and the locus is in the core banking system, so that when it bursts the whole economy freezes. As examples he contrasted the ‘ugly’ crash of 2008 with the ‘good’ crash of the dotcom bubble, which caused investment in network infrastructure from which global economies subsequently benefitted enormously. He ended by warning ‘be careful what you repress’. ‘Ugly’ bubbles should be repressed, but ‘good’ bubbles should be allowed to run. They might come to nothing, but they will do very little damage, and could be beneficial in the long-run.

“History is the lens through which we view current problems

Professor Eichengreen addressed the use of history in policy making with regards to financial crises. “History is never more powerful than during crises” when there is no time for careful analytical reasoning or data gathering. The “lessons” of the Great Depression powerfully shaped the response to the 2008 crisis. Policy makers were greatly influenced by received wisdom about the mistakes from the Depression. The failure to stabilise the money supply and provide emergency liquidity in the 1930s shaped the policy response in 2008 (e.g. cutting interest rates and quantitative easing). “That is the narrative of sage policy informed by history… that narrative is too easy.” History can act as blinkers: believing the problems of the Depression to be solved led to missing the warning signs of this crash. So it is vital that we integrate a deep understanding of history into policy making. Crucially, historians must be integrated into current work, rather than focusing solely on the past.

“There are all sorts of ways in which the Treasury is increasingly more open to the contribution that history can make”

Dr King opened by talking about the short-term nature of political horizons, the high turnover of staff in government departments and the resultant short institutional memory. This is why its important for the Treasury to work with historians. She addressed a number of issues where the Treasury is currently working with academics (e.g. different forms of government; the budgetary cycle), and highlighted some of the steps that the Treasury is taking to engage more effectively with historians: the Permanent Secretary is a Visiting Professor of Economic History at KCL; they are building strong relationships with intermediary organisations; and they are running seminar series and secondments. She ended by challenging the audience to discuss what training is appropriate and useful for civil servants in accessing and understanding historical evidence.

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Art and Memory: Conflict and Conflict resolution

Written by Leanne Melbourne, Policy Intern, Centre for Science and Policy.

Last week the Centre for Science and Policy held its fourth annual conference at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge.  This year our conference explored opportunities for improving the way government accesses, assesses and makes use of expertise from the humanities, and offered examples of the significant contribution these disciplines have made to public policy.

One of the sessions discussed the role which art plays in conflict and conflict resolution. You can listen to a recording of the session here: //sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1957905/embed

“If history is the disciplined construction of collective memory, art can be the undisciplined expression of collective dreams” Dr Tristram Riley-Smith on why art should matter to policy-makers.

This panel discussion was chaired by the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research (PaCCS) external champion and CSaP associate fellow, Dr Tristram Riley-Smith. He was joined by Kathleen Palmer (Head of Art, Imperial war museum), Dr Glenn Sujo (Senior Faculty, Royal Drawing School) and the artist Šejla Kamerić. The discussions focused on the importance of art in engaging the audience to think, discuss and learn about the distressing and harrowing topics of war and conflict.

“Art is the equivalent of slow food, it’s not easily digestible facts, it’s slowly baked to give rich flavours and rich ideas.” Kathleen Palmer on how art communicates to Annual conference 2014_Art and conflict2an audience

Kathleen Palmer started the session with a highly interesting talk on ‘What art can do for the museum?’ She showcased a wide range of art and art forms displayed at the Imperial war museum in regards to modern war and conflict. To Kathleen, art exhibitions in the museum prompted discussion and formed an engaging way for audiences to learn, see and think about conflict.

“Our moral obligation is to testify. We are the witnesses!” Dr Glen Sujo on the motivation of the interned artist Isaac Celnikier (1923 – 2011)

Dr GlenAnnual conference 2014_Art and conflictn Sujo next gave a captivating talk on art from the Holocaust. Dr Sujo examined a wide range of art in relation to the Holocaust to analyse the subjective response of the artist. He presented art from a variety of artists including interned prisoners and workers in the camps, as well as external observers.

“The point is not to shock anyone, the idea is that one fragment shows the amount of information, the amount of human pain behind any war.” Šejla Kamerić on the message behind her commissioned piece of work ‘Ab uno disce omnes- from one learned all’Annual conference 2014_Art and conflict3

Finally Šejla Kamerić showcased some of her work about the Bosnia war (1992-1995) commissioned by the Wellcome collections for their exhibition on ‘Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime’. These consisted of videos of the forensic evidence used to aid in identifying the missing people of the war. Šejla explained how she felt that art can be used a medium which forced governments to react to conflict. You can view some of her work here:

“A form of armour in the face of existential threat and mirror for thinking about conflict” Dr Riley Smith on art in relation to conflict

The session ended with a lively debate about the role which art has to play in engaging the wider community including policy makers. Art engages people who wouldn’t normally be engaged and art is therefore needed to depict those distressing moments that otherwise would be inexpressible.

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The GCSA at 50: reflections on the past, present and future of scientific advice

“Its an enormous privilege to have had the job. An enormous privilege that the job even exists…” Sir John Beddington on being GCSA.

October 2014 marks the fifty year anniversary of Solly Zuckerman’s appointment by Harold Wilson as the first cross-government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA). To mark the occasion CSaP came together with the Royal Society, GO-Science and SPRU to host a special event on the past, present and future of scientific advice. The event took the form of two panel sessions, the first being retrospective, focusing on the formation and evolution of the role of GCSA, and the second prospective, looking at how the role is changing and where it might go from here.

Sir John Beddington (GCSA 2008-2013) welcomed the audience and introduced the event, sharing his thoughts on the “completely extraordinary reporting line” that the GCSA has: officially he reports to the PM, Cabinet and the Cabinet Secretary. But the implication of that is “complete freedom”, the most delightful aspect of the job. The GCSA has the opportunity (almost unique among senior civil servants) to follow his ideas, the chance to highlight issue he feels are important, to bang the drum for challenges each generation faces. He ended his remarks by paying tribute to the role itself: internationally there are not many equivalents to the GCSA, and even fewer that are not political appointments.

Panel 1

“Those he advises have absolutely no way of assessing what he is telling them…” Lisa Jardine on the fundamental problem of the CSA.

The first panel session was chaired by Professor Frank Kelly, and was kicked off by Lisa Jardine challenging the very premise of the event: she argued that the role of GCSA existed (in all but name) considerably before 1964. Starting in WWII she recounted, “through the eyes and ears of CP Snow” the confrontation between Cherwell and Tizard and their terminal falling out 1942 over the strategic bombing of Germany. She concluded by describing the 3 conditions that Snow says must be met to get good policy formations from CSAs: the population must be educated in science; there must be enough scientists within government and parliament to be able to converse with external scientists; and finally a CSA should not be a solo figure. Next up was Jon Agar, who talked about the period between Cherwell and Tizard and the appointment of fellow panellist Robin Nicholson. He covered the formation of the role with Solly Zuckerman and tracked how the role changed during the times of his successors Cottrell, Press and Ashworth. To read Jon’s thoughts on the day see his blog here.

Sir Robin Nicholson prefaced his remarks by saying what a privilege it was to serve the first Prime Minister who had scientific training, which he felt was a very important step in the UK. Lady Thatcher had a great regard for science and retained an interest in it throughout her premiership. He regaled the audience with anecdotes about his time as GCSA, and concluded by highlighting the question of whether the GCSA should be primarily an adviser or should get involved in policy making and advocacy of policy (saying in his case it was made clear he was an adviser). Sir William Stewart, successor to Sir Robin as GCSA, then described his experiences working for 2 Prime Ministers. One of his anecdotes in particular (concerning increasing the science budget and referencing Harold Wilson’s election win) demonstrated a point that was to come up several times during the day: a GCSA must have a good political nose. Lord Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary, was the final speaker on this panel, and he opened with the statement that the role of CSAs in government is important and difficult. He echoed Sir William’s point about needing a good political nose, and demonstrated it with several anecdotes (including a spot-on impression of Lady Thatcher). The example of Walter Marshall (former CSA to DECC) who was sacked because he sold 4 nuclear PWRs to Iran, was an especially stark demonstration of it. Lord Wilson then enumerated some of the key traits that make an effective GCSA: they must be able to communicate with clarity to non-scientists; they must know how to contribute to policy, and nowadays they must be able to explain to the public.

Panel 2

“Science frames the stage for political decision making. It must provide the evidence, not the answer” Lord May on the role of scientific advice within government

The second panel was every bit as illustrious as the first. Lord May went first, echoing what Lisa had said about Cherwell, Tizard and CP Snow, and describing the decline in the importance of scientific advice in government until the efforts of Jeremy Bray and William Waldegrave led to John Major establishing the Office of Science and Technology. He also highlighted the importance of the Cabinet Secretary in providing the GCSA with a platform to get his message across in Whitehall. Geoff Mulgan spoke about the future of scientific advice to government, and placed great emphasis on systems thinking, saying that the system of delivering scientific advice is as important as what the advice actually is. Jill Rutter focused on the pressures in government, the key trends in Whitehall (e.g. downsizing, civil service reform etc), and how scientific advice fits in. She also mentioned the gap in public trust between scientists (rated highly) and politicians (rated low), but warned that this difference could lead politicians to pressure scientists to support them. The current GCSA, Sir Mark Walport, was the final speaker on the panel, and used the opportunity to address the points raised by his fellow panellists. He spoke about the importance of recognising that science is just one of many lenses for policy makers, but it must make itself heard when it has lots to offer. He also offered his thoughts on the future of scientific advice in government, mentioning, among other things, the introduction of a bespoke Science & Engineering Fast Stream for the civil service.

Following each of the panel sessions there were a number of thoughtful questions from the audience covering a range of topics, including the different types of expertise, international co-operation between science advisers, and the importance of independence. One question that really stuck in the mind concerned basic training for scientists in policy, constitutional issues, and epistemology. The nature of the discourse throughout the event was far too rich to be adequately recorded here, so I strongly encourage you to listen to the recording here.

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