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Minister calls for boffins to engage with public

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Minister for Innovation John Denham said the scientific community needs to improve its engagement with the public and that government needs to pay more attention to science when making policy.

Speaking to the Royal Society for Encouragement of the Arts, Commerce, and Manufacturers yesterday, Denham said scientific advice should be a key part of all government decision making and that government should change funding systems to reward boffins for making this happen.

Denham said: "If policy makers do not have access to world class scientific evidence and advice, we will not be able to make the best decisions about the tough challenges facing the country. If the public do not have the capacity to understand scientific evidence and risk, they face being unable to make the best decisions for themselves and their families or, in a democracy, put the most appropriate pressure on politicians."

On funding, Denham said the government spends nearly £6bn on research but can still find it hard to get the right advice. Equally, scientists can find they do not get financially rewarded for the advice they do give.

Denham said: "My concern is there may be disincentives in the system that emphasise published and peer-reviewed work over public policy advice. The work that some scientists and academic departments do to support policy makers can be undervalued."

Lord Robert Winston, Professor of Science and Society at Imperial College London, welcomed the speech and said: "When I first tried to engage society with my work as a young researcher, colleagues often saw this as irrelevant and 'not real science'. So often, science was the preserve of boffins working behind closed doors. But we now recognise that public engagement with science is vital if we are to make progress as a society."

The government is currently reviewing science funding in the UK.

The speech is available here. ®

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