Op-Ed: Disappointing science plan for U.K. announced

Posted Oct 3, 2015 by Tim Sandle
A report from the U.K. Government Chief Scientific Adviser outlines the scope of the Government Office for Science for the next five years. The report discusses government policy and funding of external agencies.
A microbiologist undertakes molecular testing into an unknown bacterium. Photograph taken in Tim San...
A microbiologist undertakes molecular testing into an unknown bacterium. Photograph taken in Tim Sandle's laboratory.
In a recently issued report, the U.K. government places its focus on “emerging technologies.” By this the report covers the Internet of Things, autonomous systems, satellites and drones.
Also contained within the strategy is a vague claim to boosting scientific infrastructure and a very confusing statement about the need for government rules (or a lack of them). Here it reads: “to ensure that standards, smart regulation and deregulation catalyse growth and do not inhibit it.”
Does this mean tighter regulation for controversial areas like genetic modification, or less regulation for projects that might damage the environment? The text is obfuscated.
There is a statement about promoting jobs and skills, which is nice but lacking in any real detail. More worthwhile is a commitment to engage with the public and to promote the discourse of science. It remains that many people without science training struggle with scientific concepts.
In terms of "meat on the bone," the report would have benefited from more detailed descriptions of some of the projects. There is a discussion about the need to address the health issues stemming from an ageing population, but what are the goals exactly?
There are similar statements about “challenge of addressing the risks of global climate change.” What does this mean? Investing in renewables or turning up to a meeting?
In related U.K. government science news, the devolved government in Scotland are pushing for more women to participate in science. In statement, Education Secretary Angela Constance said: “Scotland is a world leader in science and technology and our continued investment in support for STEM teaching, learning and skills development at school, college, university and beyond is paying off with increased Higher entrants and passes in these subjects. But we need to do more to counter the historic gender imbalance.”
STEM is an acronym for science, engineering, technology and mathematics. Highlighting the gender-gap issue, Angela Constance added: “Women remain under-represented in much of the science, technology and engineering sector.” To redress this, the Scottish government are pushing universities to promote science based courses to young women. This may not be a new piece of amazing technology, but at least it offers something more coherent than is being offered at the U.K.-wide level by David Cameron and associates.