From Lab Bench to Backbench

John-BridgemanJohn Bridgeman, Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences will be swapping lab coat for legislation, when he visits civil servant, James Riches, at the House of Commons today (Monday 24 November) for a “Week in Westminster”, as part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science.

During his visit Professor Bridgeman will shadow the civil servant operating in the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). In addition to attending seminars and panel discussions, while in Westminster he will also attend Prime Minister’s Question Time and a Mock Science and Technology Select Committee.

The Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK. It is an opportunity for parliamentarians and civil servants to become better informed about science issues and for scientists to understand how they can influence science policy. More than 300 pairs of scientists, parliamentarians and civil servants have been partnered up since the scheme was launched in 2001.

Professor Bridgeman said: “I’m delighted to be involved in this prestigious Royal Society initiative and look forward to developing new links for the College and the University with those making important decisions on our infrastructure, economy and education.

It is vital that parliamentarians and academics engage in dialogue to enhance understanding of each other’s perspectives and, crucially, the challenges each faces. Academics cannot expect to understand the complexity of Government’s strategic decision-making simply from the media. Similarly, parliamentarians and civil servants must observe first hand the impacts (positive and negative) that their decisions have on the research community and must engage in meaningful dialogue with academics on the likely longer-term consequences.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society said:

“We live in a world facing increasing challenges that can only be addressed with a clear understanding of science. From climate change to outbreaks of infectious diseases, GM organisms to technology and security, our policy makers have to make decisions about issues that will affect the lives of all those in the UK and, in many cases, the global community. This means policy-makers and scientists have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making.

We set up the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme in 2001 to provide the opportunity for MPs and scientists to build long term relationships with each other. We have now organised more than 300 pairings and have expanded the scheme to include partnerships between scientists and civil servants and members of the House of Lords.

Parliamentarians and scientists who have taken part in the scheme have gained from their experiences and the shaping of public policy can only improve over time as these relationships continue to grow.”