UK science policy: who decides?
Released: 10 March 2009
How do we decide how far science should go? The ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum¹, based at the University of Edinburgh, has invited some of the UK’s leading scientists, policy makers, media experts and ethicists to debate this question at a conference in Westminster, today (Thursday 12 March 2009).
With special reference to the recently updated Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act², which promises groundbreaking legislation on assisted reproduction and embryo research³, the conference explores how this new legal framework was determined and who really makes decisions related to science policy in Britain.
Speakers at this event include:
- Dr Stephen L Minger, Director, Stem Cell Biology Laboratory King's College, London
- Phil Willis MP, Chair of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee
- Dr Katy Berry, Department of Health Fiona Fox, Director, Science Media Centre
- Professor Steve Yearley, Director, ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum
- Sarah Norcross, Director, Progress Educational Trust
Discussions will explore:
- What was the formal process that ultimately led to the HFE Act?
- What does it mean to make decisions 'democratically' in such a controversial area?
- What impact did key stakeholder groups - including scientists, the media and the Church - have on the public debate and legislative outcome?
- What can the social sciences bring to our understanding of the public debate and decision-making process?
The event is part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science and takes place on Thursday 12th March 2009, 9am-5pm, One Great George Street, Westminster.
Professor Steve Yearley, Director of the ESRC Genomics Forum, commented:
“In the coming years many new and challenging biomedical innovations can be expected to stir up controversy. The Festival of Social Science offers us a great opportunity to re-visit last year's often emotive debates over the Human Fertilsation and Embryology Bill, not to ask whether we got the answer ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but to find out how good the quality of the discussion was. Was it reasonable? Was it democratic? Was the outcome arrived at fairly? Answering these questions will allow us to approach future decision-making over science and ethics with far greater confidence".
Phil Willis MP, Chair of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee stated:
“This remarkable piece of legislation was borne out of a desire by scientists, patient organisations and policy makers to create legislation which would serve the human fertilisation community not place barriers in it way. The outcome, following hours of debate saw considerable movement from the Government and demonstrated that where evidence informs policy sound outcomes can be achieved.”
Fiona Fox, Director, Science Media Centre added:
“This is the story of top scientific researchers who took a decision somewhere along the line that engaging with public concern is a key part of their roles as scientists. In doing so, they have made history: they have changed the narrative of science and the media from a negative one to one that is both positive and inspiring. They are exemplary in their willingness to engage with the media, and the Science Media Centre will work to ensure more scientists follow their lead in the future.”
Christine Knight, ESRC Genomics Forum Policy Officer, 0131 651 4743
Note to Editors:
¹ Established in August 2004, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is a novel initiative in the field of social science research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
As part of the ESRC Genomics Network (EGN), the Forum acts to:
- integrate the diverse strands of social science research within and beyond the EGN;
- develop links between social scientists and scientists working across the entire range of genomic science and technology;
- connect research in this area to policy makers, business, the media and civil society in the UK and abroad.
The ESRC Festival of Social Science runs from 6th to 15th March 2009 A programme of events can be found at: www.esrcfestival.ac.uk
The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council to celebrate some of the country's leading social science research, giving an exciting opportunity to show everyone what the UK's social scientists are doing and demonstrating how their work makes a difference to all our lives.