Newton’s Heirs Programme: The first four years of workshops (2008-2012)

“Newton’s Apple” is a non-partisan educational charity established with the objective of engendering mutual understanding between at scientists, policy-makers and politicians thereby enhancing evidence-based policy making in the UK.   Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) permeate our lives today and, as a nation, we face many challenges to which SET can offer solutions. For example in areas such as health, energy production, sustainable food production, transport and climate change.  It is important that regulation regarding new SET developments protects the public and our environment without impairing the application or effective exploitation of new developments. or prevent their effective exploitation.   It is essential that our policy-makers and legislators are sufficiently equipped to understand and evaluate the scientific evidence. They need to be “intelligent customers” for new SET opportunities. In turn the SET community must be able explain the scientific method to policy-makers and to communicate their science as advice in a clear and effective manner.

Many scientists are not well informed about policy matters and it is clear from the feedback we receive from our workshops that most have had little or no training to allow them to translate their findings to policy-makers, or to be effective communicators to non-scientists. Newton’s Apple has developed the Newton’s Heirs Programme of “Introduction to Science Policy” workshops.  The programme was developed with the help of young research scientists, civil servants and politicians and was designed for early career scientists and engineers.  The main aim of the programme is to help scientists and engineers to understand how science policy is made and how they can communicate their science to policy makers.

The Programme was launched in October 2008 with an event in the House of Commons at which the then Minister of Science Lord Drayson and the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington welcomed this much needed initiative.  Since the launch there have been 27 workshops in which over 670 young people have taken part.

The Workshops.

The ”Introduction to Science Policy” workshops were developed from our  experience in running workshops as a  part of the NESTA Crucible Lab project,  the British Association Communication Conference, the Women in Science Networking Conference 2007, and the British Association Festival of Science.

Fourteen of the workshops have been held in London, 11 of which have been kindly hosted in House of Commons Committee rooms in the Palace of Westminster by our MP Trustees.   We have been able to offer the Westminster workshops free of charge thanks to grants from UCB plc, the BBSRC and an anonymous supporter.  In addition we have run two events in partnership with the Institute of Physics, one for University College London, six for the University of East Anglia in Norwich and four for the University of Hull. These university-based workshops are funded by unrestricted Education Grants from the Universities and they last for three hours.  The open workshops held in Parliament are two hours long

The formats of the workshops are similar.   For the Westminster Workshops there are four speakers.  After an introduction to Government and Parliament structures and policy-formulating processes the participants hear from our panel of speakers.  They provide information on science and policy from the perspective of Parliament, Government Departments and Learned Societies. The panellists are experienced MPs or recently retired MPs, Civil Servants from major Government Departments and policy leaders from major scientific Learned Societies.  They bring their own unique experience to the events, and contribute ideas about how scientists can communicate their research to a policy audience.  In the earlier workshops open workshops and in those in the Universities there was also a speaker with experience of how scientific information and advice has lead to changes in Government policy, or has affected a new law in its making. This element has been dropped from the Westminster workshops due to time pressures. However all panellists are encouraged to include examples of how policy can be influenced during their own presentations.  During each workshop there is time for participants to raise their questions with the panellists and to join in discussions of what they have heard. Panel members are also usually available after the meeting for more informal discussion

The participants are also provided with our booklets “Science Policy Explained and Explored” and “How Policy is made – a Short Guide”, which have been supplemented from 2011-12 with our most recent booklet “An Introduction to Policy making in the European Union”.   These are all now available on our website.  As a bonus, participants are also provided with “A Directory of useful Science Policy Websites”.  This was developed as a result of requests from participants in the first workshop. It includes up-to-date website addresses for Government Departments and Governmental bodies, Parliamentary Select Committees,  major Learned Societies and Professional Institutions, Research Councils and Funding Councils, trade bodies, National Academies and the Medical Royal Colleges.

In order to encourage free discussion and questioning the number of participants at each workshop is restricted to 30-35.

Getting feedback from participants.

All participants are asked to fill out feedback forms before leaving workshop.  Our feedback completion rate is high.  Of the 674 people who have attended the workshops, forms were returned by 627.  The average return rate is 93%. Almost half of the events (13/27) had 100% returns.

On the forms participants are asked to score their level of understanding of policy matters before attending the workshop on a four point scale as follows:

  • No understanding
  • Some Understanding
  • A Good Understanding
  • An In-depth Understanding

At the end of the workshop they are asked to score their understanding using the same four point scale.  They are also invited to provide comments specifically on what they liked/disliked about the event and also to provide any general comments or suggestions they may have.

The Participants

For workshops held in the Universities they are responsible for recruiting participants from their own graduate schools.  The Westminster workshops are advertised on the Newton’s Apple Website (www.newtons-apple.org.uk), as well as through the graduate school channels in UCL,  Imperial College and latterly through the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research.  The result is inevitably that the large bulk of participants are from the London area.  However a number of participants come from some of the other London Institutions as well as from further afield. For example participants have come from Southampton, Warwick, Bristol, Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paisley to attend workshops.

As these workshops are designed for early career researchers it is not surprising that over 90% of them are PhD students or post-doctoral  researchers.  However we also have had trainees in various other disciplines, more senior academics, staff from science-based companies, Research Councils and other organisations attending.

There is great demand for these workshops from young scientists and engineers.  For example, all of our workshops in the present academic year have been oversubscribed. Following advertisements for the December 2011 workshop over 130 applications were received.

The participants varied in their level of knowledge of policy processes and, of those providing the information on the feedback forms, across all 27 workshops 241 (38.4%) claimed no prior understanding and 340 (54.2%) claimed to have had some understanding.   Forty two (0.6%) claimed to have had a good understanding and four (0.6%) to have had an in-depth understanding. ( See Table I.) There was some variability in prior experience between workshops, but those with either no or limited prior understanding always made up the great majority of participants (80% – 100%; average 92.6%).

 

The Feedback

Of those participants providing feedback after the workshop none reported that they were leaving with ‘no understanding’ of policy processes.  Twenty five percent claimed to have gained ‘some understanding’ as a result of the workshops but the majority (66.3%) felt they now had a ‘good understanding’.  Furthermore  54 (8.6%), including the 4 who came with this level of understanding, felt they were leaving with an ‘in-depth’ understanding.  (See Table I.)

Table I.  A Comparison of level of understanding of participants before and after the workshops

 

Level of

Knowledge

 Beforeworkshop

 

%

After workshop

 

%

No Understanding 241  38.4 0 0
Some Understanding 340 54.2 157 25.0
Good Understanding 42  6.7 416 66.3
In-depth Understanding 4 0.6 54 8.6
Number of returns 627   627  

 

Taken across all of the workshops, over 90% of participants claimed an increase of at least one level on our 4 point scale as a result of the workshop (See Table II).  These changes can be looked at in the different groups according to their levels of knowledge of policy matters before the workshop (See Table III.).

The majority of those claiming no change in their levels as a result of their attendance were in the groups claiming a pre-existing good (62% of the group) or an ‘in-depth’ (100% of the group) level of understanding. However one of the participants in the ‘in-depth’ group was engaged in a policy-related PhD project.   However none of those in the ‘no-understanding’ group and only 7.5% of the ‘some understanding’ group left with no improvement in their level of understanding.   However a number of these indicated that, although their understanding had not increased by one level, they had gained some new knowledge by attending the workshop.

Table II.  Improvement in levels of understanding of participants as a result of the workshop

 Improvement  0 levels  1 Level  2 Levels  3 Levels  Total
 No. Participants 56 431 136 4 627
 % Participants 8.9 68.7 21.7 0.6  

 

Of those in the ‘no-understanding’ group 98% claimed to have increased their level of understanding by either one or two levels and four actually claimed to be leaving with an ‘in-depth understanding’. In the ‘some understanding’ group 83.5% had improved their understanding by one level and 30 of this group claimed to have increased their understanding to the ‘in-depth’ level. Of those claiming to have already got a ‘good understanding’ before the workshop, 16 (38% of the group) said that their understanding had increased to the ‘in-depth’ level.

Participants also had an opportunity to include comments on the workshops on their feedback forms. Over 90% of them did so.  Many of the comments provided some very constructive suggestions for future workshops and these have been taken into account in the continual development of the Newton’s Heirs programme. For example, the introductions of our “Directory of Useful Science Policy Websites” and the production of our booklets  “How Policy is made – a Short Guide”  and  “ An Introduction to Policy making in the European Union” were in direct response to suggestions from participants.

Table III. Change in levels in the different  prior experience Groups.

 Understanding level at start  

None (%)

 

Some     (%)

 

Good (%)

 

In-depth (%)

 No increase

0 (0)

26 (7.5)

26 (62)

4 (100)

 1 level increase

131 (54.4)

284 (83.5)

16(38)

 2 levels increase

106 (44.0)

30 (9)

 3 levels increase

4 (1.7)

 No. in class

241

340

42

4

 

The comments we have received suggest that we are providing for a real need. They also suggest that the level of the information provided in the workshop and the accompanying materials are at the right level to satisfy the great majority of participants.  Comments regularly mention the good balance of speakers and the value they provide in the accounts they give of policy matters from their different perspectives.   We have had many comments suggesting that training of the sort provided by the Newton’s Heirs workshops should be included in the curriculum for the training of most science, engineering and technology postgraduates.  A  number of participants have also requested the provision of an opportunity to enlarge on what they have learnt through the workshops. A selection of comments from recent workshops will be found in the appendix to this report.

Conclusions

It is clear that this workshop programme is meeting a real need of early career scientists and engineers for information about policy formation in the UK and how to become involved.  It is encouraging that there is a real interest in these matters among the SET community.  Over the 27 workshops we have seen, in the discussions, an increasing interest among participants in career prospects in the policy arena.  Indeed, we have had a few participants who have gone on, or who intend to go on, to take up internships and other similar posts in government and parliamentary departments.

The feedback we have obtained from participants has been positive. It has clearly indicated that the workshops are serving a purpose which is not being met elsewhere. The feedback forms are kept deliberately simple in order to encourage their completion and return. No detailed definitions of what knowledge or understanding should be expected at each level are given apart from the simple categorisation of each level.  Because of this our return rate has generally been excellent from most workshops.  The form calls for a self-assessment to score the levels of understanding by the participants prior to, and after, the events and so these are necessarily subjective.  However we believe however that they do give a reasonable indication of the benefit to participants of attending the workshop.  The self-assessment scoring is supplemented by the comments provided on the form and these confirm the broad conclusions that can be drawn from the scoring scheme.

It must be remembered that the prime purpose of these workshops is to provide an “Introduction to Science Policy”. They are therefore aimed at those with either no, or only a cursory, understanding of policy matters. However a significant proportion of those coming to the workshop with a self-assessed “good understanding” have also gained from the workshop.

Our experience with the Newton’s heirs programme to date suggest that it would be beneficial for these workshops to be made more widely available in the regions.   We have been encouraged by the wider geographical representation in those workshops run in partnership with the Institute of Physics.  This was almost certainly encouraged by the Institute offering bursaries for attendees to contribute to their travel costs.  Experience with workshops in the Universities of East Anglia and Hull have shown that they can be successfully provided in other venues away from the Capital and we seek to encourage other Higher Education institutions to consider including Newton’s Heirs workshops as part of their postgraduate STEM programmes.

One recurring theme in the feedback comments is the desire of a number of participants to take their understanding of policy matters further, and to enlarge on what they have learnt through the workshops.  We are therefore currently considering  ways of providing further workshops to give more detailed exposure to particular aspects of the policy making processes.

Acknowledgements

It is a pleasure to acknowledge the help that Newton’s Apple has received from many people in the planning and execution of our Newton’s Heirs workshop programme.  In particular we are grateful to our two former directors of the Foundation, Ms Mia Nybrant and Ms Gillian Pepper, for the energy and enthusiasm that they brought to the project. We wish to thank the members of the Newton’s Heirs steering Committee for their work in establishing the need for these workshops and for creating their structure which has proved so successful and durable.

We owe a particular debt of gratitude to all who have contributed to the workshops as members of the speaker panel – our MP trustees, civil servants from Government departments, and in particular BIS and DEFRA and their predecessor departments, the officers of various Learned Societies and representatives of other organisations who contributed their knowledge and experience of policy Without all of their very willing and enthusiastic help, so freely given, these workshops would not have been possible.  We also thank all those young scientists who contributed to the workshops as participants for their feedback and suggestions. We have found these invaluable in fine tuning these events and for planning our future development of new workshops.

We are grateful to those members of the Universities of East Anglia and Hull and University College London for their support and encouragement, and making it possible for us to take these workshops out of Westminster and bring them to a wider audience. It is a pleasure also to acknowledge our partnership with the Institute of Physics through which it has been possible to engage UK’s Physics community in understanding policy matters.

Finally we thank the Trustees of the Foundation, both past and present, for their support and encouragement, and particularly those who have played active and energetic parts in the workshop programme as members of the panel and, together with their members of staff, for the efficient arranging of venues for these events.

 Michael W.Elves

July 21012

Appendix

Some representative comments from Participants

 

                                              **********

“Interesting talks from a variety of speakers from different backgrounds was good.”

“I liked the input from different parties which gave different perspectives”

“All speakers very good and informative.”

“Nice span of viewpoints.  All speakers good and interesting. Thanks for the Website lists and participants pack.”

“It was very interesting and useful to hear from people involved in different aspects of the policy process.”

“Good range of speakers, welcomed the opportunity to ask questions.”

“Great to get viewpoints from so many experienced people.”

“The speakers were all extremely clear and enthusiastic  about their work and their subjects.  It is very encouraging.”

“I liked hearing about how the policy process was explained with first hand examples.”

“I liked the clear explanation of the relationship between science and policy.”

**********

“Booklet clearly written outlining major players.”

“I will find the ’Directory of useful Science Websites’ particularly useful’.”

“The materials provided will be very useful for me and I will look up several of the reports mentioned.”

“Good additional material.”

“Useful information pack from Newton’s Apple; it will be good for future reference/contacts.”

“Really good accompanying materials – Nice format – good intro and nice to get lots of different perspectives from the panel.”

“I liked the workshop booklets as point for further reference. A very timely workshop.”

**********

“The Introduction presentation gave a clear picture.”

“A good introduction – thank you to the speakers, truly extraordinary people.”

“The MP speaker gave a good step-by-step scheme for translating scientific work into policy.”

“I appreciated the MP’s  realistic appraisal of the process.”

“The talk from the MP  was very engaging.”

“I liked the MP’s talk and display of the organisational structure of Governmental Offices and Departments.”

“Getting the MP’s perspective was very enlightening – really useful and interesting”

“ I enjoyed the Civil Servant speakers presentation and views.”

“The talk on the civil service was extremely useful to me.”

“I liked the session on ‘my experience of science in Government’.’”

“It was interesting to hear how science works in Government.”

“ I particularly liked hearing about the work of DEFRA.”

“ I liked the talks on lessons for campaigning and how DEFRA works.”

“The recommendations for how to get involved were very useful – the Learned Society speaker was very enlightening  –  gave useful information.”

“I liked the information regarding the importance of Learned Societies in the influencing of science policy.”

“I liked the talk about the importance of being part of valid learned societies for having impact on your say in policy making.”

“ I really agree with the opinion to join the Learned Society in your research field  .. but I don’t think it necessary to make too clear borders between the different fields.”

“I loved the comments from the Royal Society of Chemistry science policy representative.  Very good contributions from all the speakers.”

“I especially liked the Bee presentation. It was great to be told a few practical examples (of how policy can be influenced) to be able to understand these issues in a good way for people with not much knowledge about these sorts of situations.!”

“The British Bee Keepers Association talk is a good example to understand Science policy.”

                                        *********

“ I liked the questions – very informative broad discussion.”

“ The open discussion at the end of the session was very interesting and informative.”

“I particularly liked the question/discussion time – it could have been longer.”

“The discussion was extremely helpful.”

“I greatly enjoyed all parts of the workshop, especially the discussion.”

“I liked the healthcare policy issues discussed – dementia and diabetes. I would like to know why these issues get ignored given the economic & societal advantages to research in these areas.”

“Discussion session at the end was most useful; able to ask specific questions – speakers opinions very valuable.”

**********

“Good mix of information. I am more interested in Science Policy now.”

“Overall I found it very informative with regards to science policies – with plenty of encouragement to consider engaging in science policy myself.”

“Very worthwhile – scientists need to know this stuff.”

“Extremely useful session. Sparked an interest in this area.”

“I would highly recommend this and similar workshops to my peers. I think it is important for scientists to know about science policy and science in Government.”

“I believe that all science degrees and postgraduate study should include assignments on science policy and awareness to allow more communication and understanding between scientists and politicians.”

“Great – this should be more widely offered – eg in Universities and career services.”

“I really enjoyed all of it.  My only comment is that it was too short, I would have liked to hear more.”

“Down-to-earth approach very much appreciated and very refreshing.”

“There was no talk today that I disliked, which is very unusual for a PPD Course. Fantastic talks,”

“Everything was good and interesting. It should be for all day next time.”

“Very interesting and useful.  Would have liked a full day perhaps with some role play.”

“Fascinating. Thanks.”

“A very good and worthwhile workshop. Thank you.”

Newton’s Apple and the Institute of Physics

A Newton’s Apple workshop for Physicists

Once again the Newton’s Apple Foundation will be collaborating with the Institute of Physics to bring an “Introduction to Science Policy” workshop to the Physics Community.  The workshop will be held at the Institute of Physics, 76 Portland Place, London W1B 1NT at 14.30 – 17.00 on Thursday 15th November 2012

The speakers at the workshop will be Dr Michael Elves, Chairman, Newton’s Apple, Dr Ian Gibson, former MP for Norwich and Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Dr Chris McFee, Head of Civil Contingencies in the Government Office for Science, Professor Peter Main, Director, Education and Science, Institute of Physics and Mr Tim Lovett,­ the British Association of Bee Keepers.

Each of the speakers will provide information from their own unique perspective on ways in which scientists can communicate more effectively with policy makers, and participants will have the opportunity to pose their questions on science policy issues and put their ideas about how the science-into-policy process can be improved to the panelists.

This is a free workshop but the available places are limited to 30 and will be allocated on a strictly first come first served basis

To book your place on the seminar please register online at https://www.eventsforce.net/iop/320/register

December Westminster Workshop

AN INTRODUCTION TO SCIENCE POLICY

Palace of Westminster,  House of Commons,

Committee Room 10

15.45 – 18.00 

4th December 2012

Have you ever wondered if, and how, scientists and their research can influence government science policy?

How can scientists help prevent budget cuts, increase funding and improve the public standing of science?

Would you like to contribute to the decisions that shape science and society in the future?

This ‘Introduction to Science Policy’ workshop will give you the chance to find out more about the policy processes and the methods by which you can contribute to them.  You will also have the opportunity to put your questions to the people who work regularly on science policy issues.

TheWorkshop is suitable for postgraduate and PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and those whose work role would benefit by a knowledge of the science-into-policy processes.

Workshop structure:

An introduction to science policy – Presentation by Dr Michael Elves, Chairman,Newton’s Apple.

The guest panelists will provide information from their own unique perspective on ways in which scientists can communicate more effectively with policy makers.

Mr Andrew Miller MP – , Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee

Dr Miles Parker – Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor, DEFRA

Dr Stephen Benn – Director of Parliamentary Affairs and Government Relations,   Society of Biology. 

Discussion – Participants will have a chance to put their questions to the panelists on science policy issues and how the science-into-policy process can be improved.

To book places on the workshop download an application form and return via email to michael.elves@btinternet.com.

NOTE; There are a limited number of places available, so reserve your place early!

The importance of young scientists understanding the UK’s Policy machines

The importance of young scientists understanding the UK’s

Policy machines – a personal view

Dr Ian Gibson MP I have a strong feeling that the issue of House of Lords Reform and the expertise within it fails to excite not just the British public but particularly the hundreds of young scientists who are beavering away at research across the UK.  My experience with them, through the charity Newton’s Apple, is that they wish to understand how grants are awarded, cuts are made and how legislation is enacted and determined and particularly in the case of new measures that have a science content or will impact on the scientific community.  By introducing them to the work of learned societies, previous and current members of the Parliamentary Select Committees as well as civil servants by meeting in Parliament and within their local universities, Newton’s Apple gives post docs and research students a taste for these matters.  Whether it is how money is given to bee research, how the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act developed and how civil servants get on with it despite the pontifications in Parliament, they come to some understanding of the processes.  They certainly wish to know more and come to believe that doing research just on its own without this understanding weakens their role in the scientific educational process.   They are the most important sector in scientific research since they do so much of the ground work while their supervisors are administering or serving on committees and are gradually taken away from the bench.

My own feeling is that in Parliament it is unlikely that there will ever be the understanding of how science is done and how it feels to be a young researcher, given the nature of recruitment into political parties and into Westminster.  It is not enough to have achieved a GCSE or O’Level in Science to have come to terms with an understanding of the scientific process, its frustrations and its essential nature.  There needs to be much more interaction with those who are interested in science and have an understanding of Westminster life with younger people who are able to break down the barriers between the different laboratories in their work places.  They can work together to influence MPs and others more effectively from outside Parliament.  When I say that the House of Lords reforms seem irrelevant this is not to deny the excellence of the scientific experts there who have been through the mill.  But many of them get disillusioned with the parliamentary process and indeed for my part as an MP I regularly questioned what the role of the scientific expert was in the House of Lords.  They may have raised the level of the debate but their effectiveness was always in question.  The political understanding of scientists was brought home to me at the Latitude Festival recently when Brian Cox, for all his virtues, completely dodged the question of how science could produce, for example, weapons of mass destruction, and this too came from a basic understanding of physics as much as the Higgs Bosun did.  Scientists at all levels somehow still think that the social context cannot divert the usefulness, or otherwise,  of scientific discoveries.   This is why I think it has become easy for people to talk about the virtue and values of science in our economies without really addressing the serious social implications of how science can be used in society.  The younger generation certainly appreciates this as a contradiction when it is put in front of them.

I would welcome the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) if it took time to interact with our young scientific community and discuss these issues. We should discuss the successes, the failures, the campaigns and indeed the whole contradictory nature of science in its interaction with politicians.  The lack of understanding of each other is a mammoth problem yet to be solved and until we do we shall never settle the so-called issue of the Public Understanding of Science and vice versa.  I doubt if the election of the Lords in these circumstances would make any difference to the understanding of how important these are to the economic growth of the UK and also our standing on the world stage which is, of course, high but also vulnerable to current political policies. 

To summarise, then, my view is that we should concentrate on developing an understanding with the younger community and perhaps even excite them enough to enter the political field at various levels e.g. the Civil Service, charities or NGOs.  Politicians steeped in their dark arts are unlikely to understand the complex, frustrating but challenging world at the laboratory bench.

Ian Gibson

June workshop in Parliament

NEWTON’S APPLE

AN INTRODUCTION TO SCIENCE POLICY

13th June 2012
Committee Room 18, Westminster Hall

House of Commons, Westminster, 16.00-18.00

  • Have you ever wondered how the regulatory and policy processes work?
  • Do you want to know how your research could be used to inform public policy?
  • Would you like to contribute to the decisions that shape science and society in the  future?

This ‘Introduction to Science Policy’ workshop will give you the chance to find out more about the policy process and the methods by which you can contribute to it.  The workshop will also give you the chance to put your questions to people who work with science, engineering and policy.

Workshop Structure;

The maximum group size is 30 and workshops run for 2 hours.  The workshop entails;

An introduction to Science Policy – Presentation by Dr Michael Elves,  Chairman, Newton’s Apple; includes booklets explaining the field of Science Policy and how Policy is made.

  • Science in Parliament  –  Dr Julian Huppert MP
  • Science in GovernmentDr Chris McFee, Head of Civil Contingencies, Government Office for Sciencel
  • The Role of the Learned Societies:  Dr Stephen Benn, Director of Parliamentary Affairs and Government Relations, Society of Biology.       

The guest panelists will provide information from their own unique perspective on ways in which scientists and engineers can communicate their research to policy makers.

Discussion; Participants will have the opportunity to pose their questions to the panelists on science and engineering policy issues and how the science-into-policy process can be improved.

This is a free Workshop

To book places on the workshop download an application form and return to the email address stated on the form. NOTE; There are a limited number of places available, so reserve your place early!

A case study by Ian Gibson

 

Can scientists have any influence on Government policy making?  

 A case study – The Making of the

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, 2008

 

Dr Ian Gibson MP

In May 2008 The Guardian ran the headline “MPs vote for hybrid embryos after Brown makes plea to make “moral endeavour.””  It went on to acknowledge that MPs were pushing back the boundaries of science in allowing the creation of interspecies – or “hybrid” – embryos which have a combination of human and animal DNA.  This technology allowed the injection of DNA from the nucleus of an adult human cell into a cow or rabbit egg from which the nuclear DNA had been removed.  The result is the creation of an embryo – a tiny ball of cells all of which would have more than 99% human DNA. Under the then current legislation, these could not be allowed to develop beyond 14 days.  However this is long enough for these hybrids to be used for the development of stem cells for research and avoided the use of scarce human eggs.  The other major policy decisions incorporated in what was to become the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 allowed the creation of saviour siblings. These are created by in-vitro fertilisation and were closely tissue matched with a sick sibling with the prospect of using multipotent cells obtained from the umbilical cord as transplants to treat the sibling.  A further major change was that the need for a father was to be replaced by the need for ‘supportive parenting’. 

The debates in the House of Commons when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was going through Parliament were often highly emotive.  This was particularly true when a group of MPs proposed amendments in an attempt to reduce the current time limit on abortion from 24 weeks to 22 and 20 weeks.  Although abortion was not an matter covered in the Bill, as it was a Bill intended to amend the  Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 which did deal with abortion the issue, they could be legitimately be raised.  However the amendments were not agreed and so the attempt failed. There was moral fury from some religious MPs who were eventually allowed to vote with their consciences under a free vote system in all parties on the most contentious issues in the Bill.

The background to what was to become the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 stems from scientific achievements in 1955.  Then Bob Edwards, a young PhD student in the Institute of Animal Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, was working on the fertilisation of mouse eggs and their subsequent development.  In 1960 he started to study human fertilisation and in 1968 he achieved the fertilisation of a human egg.  He then teamed up with the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and in 1978 his work led to the birth at Oldham General Hospital of Louise Brown, the first so-called test tube baby. He was awarded Nobel Prize in 2010 and given a knighthood in 2012.   This development meant that infertile couples now had the possibility of having a baby.  This development was not welcomed by all and there was a huge outcry and hostility from many sources including the Roman Catholic Church.  The Government refused to support his research and he and Steptoe carried on their work in the private Bourne Hall clinic which they founded in Cambridge.  It is estimated that by 2010 about 4 million children had been born by IVF. 

It took four years, to 1982, for the Government to set up a committee, chaired by the philosopher, Mary Warnock, to look into the social and moral impact of this new technology.  Hundreds of interested individuals gave evidence to the committee and, following the publication of a White Paper in 1987, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was passed.  This Act provided for the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which was an independent public body and the first of its type in the world.  The HFEA regulated IVF treatment and human embryology research. It set out the terms of use of human embryos as well as the use of donation of sperm and eggs and their storage. It also issued licences for the creation of human embryos outside the body and their use in treatment and research.  Finally the HFEA was charged with keeping a database of all relevant research and treatment.  Despite the furore the Act was passed and the issue quietly slipped from the public gaze.  In the following years, for example in 2001, the HFEA established regulations which extended the purposes of embryo research and licensing to include knowledge about serious disease. 

These technologies were of course developing and necessitated a debate in Parliament. This debate, which was principally about embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, required the HFEA to consider the use of embryos necessary or desirable for these research purposes.  Attempts by the HFEA and opposition groups to resort to the law courts to determine the scope and use of these new technologies created a critical mood amongst the scientific community which required a further examination of the relevant laws. This lead to the passing of legislation in 2001  as a consequence of the novel technology that resulted in Dolly the Sheep. This Act forbade the cloning of human beings. There was also a requirement, determined initially by the HFEA, which enabled donor-conceived children, upon reaching the age of 18, to access the identity of their egg or sperm donor.  At the same time the European Union introduced common safety and quality standards for human tissues and cells across the Union and this was adopted by the UK in 2004.

Perhaps the most significant event however was in 2005 when the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, with a little guidance from Downing Street and the Dept of Health, conducted an Inquiry and reported on human reproduction technologies and the law.  The purpose of this Inquiry was to look at the then legal framework in the light of technological advances and recent changes in ethical and societal attitudes. The Committee received evidence from a variety of different bodies and individuals, including members of the scientific community, which was all taken into account in reaching its conclusions.  Some aspects of the draft report however were met with opposition from some members of the committee and at its final meeting, just before the 2005 General Election, a significant number of members of the committee attempted to derail the report in its final discussion phase. They tried to amend it by tabling some 76 amendments and there is no doubt that various groups from outside Parliament who opposed the new developments, including the Roman Catholic Church and some secular bodies, played a significant role in these events.  When at 6 p.m. it looked like the report might fail because of this fillybustering, Dr Brian Iddon, a member of the committee, called for a guillotine for 9.0 p.m. This would mean that there could be no more amendments taken, there would be no more discussion and a vote would be taken on the report. This was a novel situation for a Select Committee and senior clerks in the House of Commons had to be called in to check that this was an appropriate action.  The Guillotine succeeded and the discussion terminated, but it was only my casting vote as the Chairman which ensured that the Report was accepted and could go forward. This was clearly a dramatic time and the Government welcomed the report which enabled them to eventually develop the 2008 Act.

Later in 2005 the Department of Health carried out a public consultation on possible changes to the law and regulations relating to human reproductive technologies. This was based on a number of reviews, studies and reports, and particularly that of the Select Committee, dealing with the emerging technologies, developments on the international stage and public attitudes.  The results of this consultation, which had elicited 535 responses from various bodies and individuals, lead to the publication at the end of 2006 of a White Paper “Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: proposals for revised legislation (including establishment of the Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos)”. Then, in May 2007, the Government published the Human Tissues and Embryos (draft) Bill which was intended to revise the law on assisted reproduction and embryology.   A joint Select Committee was set up to scrutinise this draft bill composed of members of both Houses of Parliament.  The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee also conducted a more detailed Inquiry into the Government’s proposals to regulate hybrid and chimera embryos. Both Committees took oral evidence and also received written evidence which again covered a wide range of views and opinions.  The Commons Select Committee reported in May 2007 and the Joint Committee’s report was published in August 2007.  Both reports were generally supportive of research in the field of human-animal embryos but within an effective regulatory regime, including some restrictions, and they were critical of the Government’s proposals for inter-species embryo research as being too restrictive.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill then took into account the recommendations of these Committees and covered issues including the regulated creation of hybrid embryos. It began its Parliamentary journey in the House of Lords in January 2007.  In November 2008 the Bill became law as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.

The Act of 2008 revised the 1990 Act in significant ways.  It ensured complete regulation of the use and creation of human embryos outside the body, it banned the selection of the gender of offspring for moral and social reasons, it replaced the “need for a father” with the “welfare of the child”, allowed people in same sex relationships and unmarried couples to apply for an order to be treated as the parents of the child was born using a surrogate mother, and of course the one which created the most anger amongst opposition parties was allowing human admix embryos, that is with both human and animal material.  The HFEA was essential, it argued, in regulating this development. 

The debates in the House of Commons on issues such as the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos and saviour siblings were often emotive, with significant opposition particularly from some religious groups.  It is important to point out however that throughout the various Inquiry and debate processes the scientific community acted with one voice making their views known, explaining the science behind the new developments and providing a rationale for their positions.  The scientific learned Societies, the academies and Royal Colleges as well as individual scientists all provided powerful evidence and were joined by charities and patient groups who were concerned with human illnesses.  This had an important effect on the judgement of MPs on how to vote.  Ironically now we are hearing of the abandonment of the HFEA and its substitution by another committee.  It remains to be seen how effective this is.  However before the HFEA is dissolved it is considering the payment of compensation to donors, restricting the number of families a donor can donate to and, finally, deciding on a policy to reduce multiple births from fertility treatment.

There is little doubt that the current Act involved the input of many people and organisations with a wide range of different views but the role of the scientists was particularly important in providing the technical basis and understanding  – as The Guardian article points out.  There were times of despair and it could be thought sometimes that we were going too far to appease some of the religious groups and secular groups opposed to the new technology in this country. Had they had their way with regard to human/animal hybrids, for example, it would have had a profound and inhibitory effect on stem cell research in the UK. We could not have achieved the position of international pre-eminence in this area of science.  We would not be in a position to carry out significant research into the use of stem cells as therapies for some serious and life-threatening disease. However the careful explanations, arguments and campaigns paid off.  Further, as science continues to move on there will be an even greater need for Parliament to be informed of the nature and consequences of these new technologies and how they input into the social mores of this country. In this the scientific community must play a key role.  However it is for the Government and Parliament to ultimately decide, based on sound evidence, where the balance of views lies and the direction new law will take.

Dr Ian Gibson 

May 2012

April Workshop for scientists

AN INTRODUCTION TO SCIENCE POLICY

17th April 2012
Committee Room 16, House of Commons,

Westminster,

16.00-18.00

  • Have you ever wondered how the regulatory and policy processes work?
  • Do you want to know how your research could be used to inform public policy?
  • Would you like to contribute to the decisions that shape science and society in the future?

This ‘Introduction to Science Policy’ workshop will give you the chance to find out more about the policy process and the methods by which you can contribute to it.  The workshop will also give you the chance to put your questions to people who work with science, engineering and policy.

Workshop Structure;

The maximum group size is 30 and workshops run for 2 hours. The workshop entails;

  • An introduction to Science Policy – Dr Monica Darnbrough, Newton’s Apple (formerly of the Cabinet Office, Home Office, FCO & DTI); includes booklets explaining the field of Science Policy and how Policy is made.
  • Science in Parliament  –  Andrew Miller MP – Chairman, Science and Technology Select Committee
  • Science in GovernmentDr Miles Parker Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser – DEFRA
  • The Role of the Learned Societies –  Prof Peter Main, Director, Education and Science, Institute of Physics.

The guest panelists will provide information from their own unique perspective on ways in which scientists and engineers can communicate their research to policy makers.

Discussion; Participants will have the opportunity to pose their questions to the panelists on science and engineering policy issues and how the science-into-policy process can be improved.

This is a free Workshop

To book places on the workshop download an application form and return via email to michael@newtons-apple.org.uk NOTE; There are a limited number of places available, so reserve your place early!

Open workshop in Parliament

NEWTON’S APPLE – NEWTON’S HEIRS WORKSHOP PROGRAMMES

AN INTRODUCTION TO SCIENCE POLICY 18th January 2012 Jubilee Room, Westminster Hall

House of Commons, Westminster, 16.00-18.00

Have you ever wondered how the regulatory and policy processes work?

Do you want to know how your research could be used to inform public policy?

Would you like to contribute to the decisions that shape science and society in the  future?

This ‘Introduction to Science Policy’ workshop will give you the chance to find out more about the policy process and the methods by which you can contribute to it.  The workshop will also give you the chance to put your questions to people who work with science, engineering and policy.

Workshop Structure;

The maximum group size is 30 and workshops run for 2 hours.  The workshop includes booklets explaining the field of Science Policy and how Policy is made;

An introduction to Science Policy – Presentation by Dr Michael Elves,  Chairman, Newton’s Apple;.

Science in Parliament  –  Dr Julian Huppert MP

Science in GovernmentDr Monica Darnborough,  formerly of the Cabinet Office, Home Office, FCO, and the former Department of Trade and Industry.

The Role of the Learned Societies: Dr Stephen Benn, Director of Parliamentary Affairs and Government Relations, Society of Biology.

The guest panelists will provide information from their own unique perspective on ways in which scientists and engineers can communicate their research to policy makers.

Discussion; Participants will have the opportunity to pose their questions to the panelists on science and engineering policy issues and how the science-into-policy process can be improved.

Hull and East Anglia workshops

Forthcoming Regional Workshops

Introduction To Science Policy Workshops in the University of East Anglia  – 16th February 2012.

Chairman: Dr Michael Elves

Panelists: Dr Ian Gibson, Dr Miles Parker (DEFRA), Dr Robert Massey ( Royal Astronomical Society), Mr Tim Lovett ( British Association of Beekeepers)

Introduction To Science Policy Workshops in the University of Hull  –

13th March 2012

Chairman: Dr Michael Elves

Panelists: Dr Brian Iddon, Dr Yvonne Boyd ( Formerly DEFRA), Prof Ian Malcolm (formerly CEO Society of Biology), Dr Ian Gibson.

IoP workshop videos

Videos of the ‘Introduction to Science Policy Workshop’ held at the Institute of Physics in November 2011 are now available on YouTube:

Part 1

Part 2

Newton’s Apple developed these workshops because, although there are numerous training programmes offered to scientists and engineers in the areas of science media and public engagement, there are no equivalent opportunities for them to receive a similar high standard of information on the policy processes and the use of science in policy.