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How experts can give better advice to policymakers

Oli Usher3 July 2015

Sir Mark Walport addresses the Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction’s annual conference

Sir Mark Walport addresses the Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction’s annual conference

One of the main purposes of government is to manage risks. Key to assessing these risks is scientific and technical expertise. So conversations between academics and policymakers are very important.

Unfortunately these conversations can sometimes be at cross purposes. Fortunately, when framed correctly, and with both sides understanding each other, discussions between policymakers and academics can be hugely fruitful.

This was the argument of Sir Mark Walport, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, in his keynote address to the UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction’s annual conference on June 25.

So how should academics talk to policymakers?

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Have your say: how should the government invest capital for scientific research?

ucyow3c7 May 2014

pencil-icon  Written by Cher Thornhill

The Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, recently visited UCL to deliver a talk entitled, ‘New opportunities for science capital’.

After negotiating my way around protesting students, I gained entry to UCL’s Darwin Lecture Theatre, which dissolved the tense, edgy atmosphere with a gentle, studious calm.

Rt Hon David Willetts

Rt Hon David Willetts MP

Recurrent spend
When it comes to government science spending, the major recurrent spend includes money for:research councils (RCs), the higher education funding council for England (HEFCE), learned societies and Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF).

Mr Willetts began his talk by hailing the coalition’s commitment to such spending. “We’ve not just maintained a £4.6 billion science ring fence but are now modestly increasing it,” said Willetts, who added that the research council budget allocations had been announced earlier that day.

Capital revival
In the current age of austerity, the government has also made a long-term commitment to increase capital investment in science and research to £1.1 billion in 2015–2016 and to grow it in line with inflation each year to 2020–2021, Willett added.

“Total science and research spending is at the highest level it’s been in recorded science-spend history,” he said proudly. In addition to the recurrent spending, £5.8 billion – almost a quarter of the ring-fenced amount – has been allocated to capital investment in science and research over the next five years.

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Gender equality in Latin America: creating policy environments that achieve success

zclef7812 March 2014

“The message of gender equality still resonates over a century after it was first proposed by the revolutionary Clara Zetkin.”

One of the opening statements of Professor Maxine Molyneux’s Lunch Hour Lecture reminded us that with International Women’s Day on 8 March, it was the perfect time to consider what has been achieved by the UN Millennium Development Goal to “promote gender equality and empower women” since the year 2000.

Brazilian woman

Brazilian woman holding ‘equal?’ sign

Few people in the UK have heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and only about a third of the audience today.

This was a good proportion according to Professor Molyneux (Institute of the Americas), despite our very own David Cameron co-chairing the UN panel responsible for the post-2015 agenda for development goals – a fact that amused some members of the audience (perhaps thinking of recent criticisms about the all-male Tory front bench).

But with the democratic representation of women in the UK at only 22% compared with Latin America’s average of 25%, and our mediocre ranking of 26 on the Gender Inequality Index, perhaps we should be paying a bit more attention.

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Let’s talk about Natsal

uclektm28 January 2014

If you were to sum up the results of the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), it would go something like this: gay marriage is fine, cheating is bad and sexual behaviours can be hindered by bad health.

Natsal infographic (http://www.natsal.ac.uk/)

Natsal infographic – number of partners
(Credit: http://www.natsal.ac.uk/)

You could also explain the results much more eloquently, as did Professor Dame Anne Johnson (UCL Infection & Population Health) in her Lunch Hour Lecture, ‘Studying sex comes of age.’

Statistics are tricky. In theory, they should confirm what we already know empirically, but often they still manage to surprise. In this regard, I found Professor Johnson’s talk a mixed bag of expectations met and surpassed. (more…)