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Scientists swap the lab bench for the green bench

29 November 2016

Scientists will trade lab coats for legislation when they meet with parliamentarians and civil servants in Westminster this week (28 November – 1 December) as part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society - the UK’s national academy of science, with support from the Government Office for Science.

The scheme pairs scientists with parliamentarians and civil servants so that they can learn about each other’s worlds and explore how research findings can inform policy making. 

In Westminster this week the scientists taking part in the scheme will shadow a civil servant or parliamentarian. They will also attend seminars and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policy making and take part in a mock Select Committee. 

The visit will provide scientists with a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how they can share their expertise with policy makers. It will offer parliamentarians and civil servants the opportunity to investigate the science behind their decisions and enhance their access to scientific evidence.

Parliamentarians participating this year include three government ministers: Nicola Blackwood MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Innovation; Sir Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office; and Rory Stewart MP, Minister of State for International Development. Six Shadow Ministers are also taking part in the scheme including Rachael Maskell MP, Shadow Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Clive Lewis MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Scientists taking part are drawn from universities across the UK and institutions such as the Francis Crick Institute, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Natural History Museum and Rothamstead Research.

The week will begin with a reception in parliament where Professor Brian Cox OBE FRS will explain why policy makers and researchers must work together to ensure the UK’s excellent science is used to improve people’s lives and tackle global challenges. 

The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK. After the week in Westminster the scheme will continue as parliamentarians and civil servants don their lab coats when they visit their scientist partners in their labs next year.

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society said: 

“'Expert input can help decision-makers to respond to unpredictable, global challenges like pandemics as well as the more everyday problems like how to provide affordable care for an ageing population. By working closely with the research community on their doorstep, UK decision-makers can draw on the best innovative thinking around the world to inform their policymaking. The Royal Society pairing scheme, now in its 16th year, gives parliamentarians, civil servants and scientists the chance to build long-term relationships to ensure that excellent research and innovation taking place in the UK is used to improve people's lives.”