The work of the Royal Society’s Science Policy Centre is organised around the following four themes.
The Daisyworld model developed by Dr James Lovelock FRS and Professor Andrew Watson FRS. This conceptual model illustrates the tight coupling between climate and the biosphere through the connection between surface reflectivity and temperature—white daisies reflect more and absorb less solar radiation than do dark daisies thereby keeping the Earth cooler.
- Sustainability: Climate change, energy and food security, biodiversity, poverty and population change will shape the coming century. They will alter how we live, the balance of risks that we face, and the ways that we govern a more interdependent world. Tackling these challenges will require the best available science: to measure and predict impacts; to identify solutions; and to evaluate options and pathways for adaptation.
- Diplomacy: Scientists and diplomats don’t make for obvious bedfellows. While science is in the business of uncovering truth, Sir Henry Wootton, the 17th century diplomat, famously defined the ambassador as 'an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country'. But many aspects of foreign policy have scientific components. Science can act as a source of 'soft power' by improving a country’s influence on the international stage. And the networks of cooperation that underpin science are ideally placed to broker solutions to global problems.
- Innovation: We can’t predict the 21st century counterparts to quantum theory, the double helix or the computer, nor where the great innovators of the future will get their formative training and inspiration. But one thing seems certain: unless we get smarter, we’ll get poorer. Our relative standing will sink unless some of the best ideas of the 21st century germinate and are exploited here in the UK. The pressures of an economic downturn, the pace of globalisation and the urgency of moving to a low-carbon economy, require policy makers to rethink established links between the creation of knowledge and long-term prosperity.
- Governance: The relationship between science and politics is sometimes uneasy. Negotiations can take place out of view – in the corridors of Whitehall or the workings of expert committees. Now and then, particular developments spark controversy or become condensation points for wider concern. Whether it is the prospect of a new wave of nuclear power stations, advances at the frontiers of biotechnology or research with ‘dual use’ applications in warfare or terrorism, our capacity to innovate presents us with dilemmas as well as opportunities. We need to generate approaches to the governance of science that can learn from past mistakes, cope with uncertainty, and harness technological change for the common good.
To learn more about these themes please read the Science Policy Centre’s prospectus: ‘Science Policy Centre: 2010 and beyond’ (PDF).