Scientists swap the lab bench for the back bench

24 November 2014

Scientists will trade lab coats for legislation when they meet with parliamentarians and civil servants in Westminster as part of the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme.

The Royal Society has paired up scientists with parliamentarians and civil servants so that they can trade experiences as part of this unique scheme. This week the pairs meet for a ‘Week in Westminster’ giving scientists the chance to shadow their policy-making partners.

Participants this year include Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Lord Selborne, Chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, and former Liberal Democrat Party Leader, Sir Menzies Campbell MP.

The Royal Society offers the scheme, which has been running since 2001, to help improve the science available to policy-makers. It provides parliamentarians and civil servants with the opportunity to investigate the science behind their decisions while offering scientists the chance to explore the policy process and how they can share their expert knowledge with Government.

This year, five scientists working in industry will share their insight with policy-makers. These include Chief Technologist at Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell systems, Dr Gerry Agnew, who is partnered with Mr Rupert Wilmouth, Head of Energy in the Government Office of Science.

During this year’s ‘Week in Westminster’ scientists taking part in the scheme will spend a week with their partners in parliament; attending Prime Minister’s Questions and a mock Science and Technology Select Committee. Parliamentarians will don their lab coats when they visit their scientist partners in a reciprocal visit at a later stage.

Since 2001 the scheme has teamed up more than 300 pairs of scientists and parliamentarians or civil servants. Previous participants include Nick Clegg MP and Ed Vaizey MP.

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.”