Science and Politics: The Perfect Misunderstanding?

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The aim of this session is learn from the experience of Covid to improve communication between scientists and politicians and so develop more effective strategies not just for tackling the pandemic but meeting the scientific policy challenges that lie ahead.

While much of Britain’s wealth derives from manufacturing during the industrial revolution, the scientists and engineers behind that revolution have traditionally left ‘governing’ to those with classical liberal educations, who also dominate the media and commentariat.  As such while our politicians and journalists may lionise science, they often display little understanding of it.

During the Covid crisis this mismatch has come to the fore. “Guided by the science” was initially a mantra for Government ministers, but from the very beginning it was apparent this was little more than an lip service, because there was very little science to go on and what there was rarely suggested a single course of action, merely a choice between scenarios and risks.  The choices implied by the scientific evidence have become more apparent in recent weeks, but decision-making must ultimately and necessarily be political: how would the British public respond to a new lockdown instruction?  What number of deaths would it tolerate?   Who would it blame for what level of economic disruption?

This mismatch between scientific and political understanding has implications which go far beyond the current crisis.   The world is entering a new industrial revolution, founded upon artificial intelligence.  While individuals and small companies have proved themselves adept at invention and innovation, Britain as a whole lacks an understanding of the role it might play in this new revolution.  It has proved inept at commercialising its research and so whatever breakthroughs have been achieved have tended to see the financial benefits moved elsewhere.

Radix believes that if Britain is to survive Covid and thrive in the future it needs not just great research scientists but politicians, journalists and influencers who understand the opportunities and challenges, know how to assess risk and back innovation. 

  • Chair

    Fiona Fox OBE

    Chief executive and founding member of the Science Media Centre, which seeks to renew public trust in science. Established in 2002, the SMC believes that scientists can have a huge impact on the way scientific issues are reported, thus influencing public debate and attitudes to science, and in turn helping to shape public policy.

  • Panelist

    George Freeman MP

    MP for Mid-Norfolk and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (2014 -16), as well as Minister for Transport (2019-2020. Widely respected as a leader in policy development, Freeman is the former Chair of Prime Minister’s Policy Board and of the Conservative Policy Forum (2017-2019). He is the founder and chair of the Big Tent Festival of ideas

  • Panelist

    Tracey Brown OBE

    Director of Sense about Science, an independent charity that challenges misrepresentation of science in public life and advocates for openness and honesty about research, to improve public debate and policymaking. Brown leads Sense about Science’s work on the transparency of evidence used by governments in policy, to ensure that the public has access to the same evidence and reasoning as decision makers. In 2010, The Times named Brown as one of the ten most influential figures in science policy in Britain and in 2017 she was made an OBE, for services to science.

  • Panelist

    Dr Ewan Kirk

    A technology entrepreneur, investor, and founder of quantitative investment management firm Cantab Capital Partners. Kirk is co-founder of the Turner Kirk Trust, one of the largest private funders of fundamental mathematics research in the UK. The foundation has endowed fellowships in science, mathematics and conservation. In 2015, Ewan and his wife Dr. Patricia Turner provided a £5 million gift to the University of Cambridge to establish the Cantab Capital Institute for the Mathematics of Information. Ewan has been involved in a number of ventures to apply cutting-edge science and mathematics research to enterprise, charity, and government. He believes the UK has the opportunity to lead the world in digital governance by using data more effectively to increase the accessibility, effectiveness, and quality of our public services.

  • Panelist

    Dr Joe Zammit-Lucia

    Joe is a co-Founder and Board member at RADIX. Trained as a physician at the University of London. Having practiced clinical medicine he had a career in industry spanning Research & Development, marketing, strategic planning and industry economics. He is a regular commentator on the relationship between politics and business in outlets in the UK, USA, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands and Malta. He was Special Advisor to the Director General at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and a member of the Dean's Advisory Board at Florida International University. He is an Advisory Board member of the Singapore Forum. He is co-author of "The Death of Liberal Democracy?" and "Backlash: Saving Globalisation From Itself." His new book on the relationship between Business and Politics will be published by Bloomsbury in 2022.


Online Event


Wednesday 28th October 2020, 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

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