O'Really?

May 8, 2015

MPs with Science Degrees: How did Science & Technology do in the UK General Election 2015?

In case you missed it, the people of the United Kingdom have just democratically elected 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) to run their government for the next five years [1,2]. How many of these newly elected MPs have science backgrounds? Like many, I was inspired by Mark Henderson’s book The Geek Manifesto [3] back in 2012 after reading an article which argued that (quote) “with just one British MP having a scientific background, the people who run the country clearly need some expert advice”. So when I heard the news that the MP concerned, Julian Huppert (a.k.a. the “only scientist in the commons”) had lost his Cambridge seat, I lamented accordingly on twitter:

My lament was retweeted quite a bit, then Roger Highfield at the Science Museum in London challenged the interwebs to find if it really was true:

The sciencey MP factoid was quickly questioned by some random bloke on twitter called Richard Dawkins:

… and lots of people weighed in (see below)  – as they usually do on twitter. Thankfully Margaret Harris at Physics World, set the record straight and drew attention to the impressively large Physics Vote. Viva La Relativity!

Who knew there were so many physicists involved in the election? Not me. Turns out, the article about only one science MP, is a bit misleading. Julian Huppert was the only MP in the last government to be a “primary science worker” – that’s not quite the same as studying science at university. Julian was the only MP in the last government with scientific background at PhD level:

Members of the UK Parliament with science and technology degrees in 2015

So with help from twitter, the list of MPs with science degrees looks something like this (will update as needed):

  1. Heidi Allen MP for South Cambridgeshire (BSc in Astrophysics)
  2. Steve Baker MP for Wycombe (BSc Aerospace Engineering, MSc Computer Science)
  3. Gavin Barwell MP for Croydon Central (BA Natural Sciences)
  4. Margaret Beckett MP for Derby South (BSc Metallurgy)
  5. Karen Bradley MP for Staffordshire Moorlands (BSc Mathematics)
  6. Tom Brake MP for Carshalton and Wallington (BSc Physics)
  7. Julian Brazier MP for Canterbury (BA Mathematics)
  8. Andrew Bridgen MP for North West Leicestershire (BSc Genetics)
  9. Alan Brown MP for Kilmarnock (BSc Civil Engineering)
  10. Therese Coffey MP for Suffolk Coastal (BSc & PhD Chemistry)
  11. David Davis MP for Haltemprice & Howden (BSc Computer Science)
  12. Robert Flello MP for Stoke-on-Trent South (BSc Chemistry)
  13. Liam Fox MP for North Somerset (Bachelor of Medicine)
  14. Mark Hendrick MP for Central Lancashire (BSc Eletrical Engineering)
  15. Carol Monaghan MP for Glasgow North West (BSc Physics)
  16. Liz McInnes MP for Heywood & Middleton (BSc Biochemistry)
  17. Chi Onwurah MP for Newcastle Central (BEng Electrical Engineering)
  18. Chris Philp MP for  Croydon South (BSc Physics)
  19. Alok Sharma MP for Reading West (BSc Physics & Electronics)
  20. Alec Shelbrooke MP for Elmet & Rothwell (BEng Mechanical Engineering)
  21. Graham Stringer MP for Blackley (BSc Chemistry)
  22. Stephen Timms MP for East Ham (MA Mathematics)
  23. Philippa Whitford MP for Ayrshire Central (Bachelor of Medicine)
  24. Sarah Wollaston MP for Totnes (Bachelor of Medicine)
  25. Valerie Vaz MP for Walsall South (BSc Biochemistry)
  26. Nadhim Zahawi MP for Stratford-on-Avon (BSc Chemical Engineering)

So there are at least 26 MPs out of 650 total who have some kind of STEM educational backgrounds, and hopefully several more. Thankfully, much better than none – but still not that high considering the proportion of STEM in the general population. This article MP’s Degrees: What do they know? claims there are many more scientific MPs, but it depends what you mean by Science of course. Over at the Science Campaign, they have counted 83 politicians with a background or “interest in” science. Doesn’t everyone have an interest in Science & Technology at some level? If so, there are 650 out of 650 MPs (100%) with an interest in science and technology then? As for MPs who have an actual science education, your mileage may vary, especially if you think Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) are all sciences. Wannabe sciences? Yes. Actual Sciences? No.

In an ideal world where politicians create policies based on evidence, rather than finding evidence to fit their policies, how many scientists and technologists do we actually need in our government? Would it actually help make for better policies?

[Update: Jo Johnson MP for Orpington (BA Modern History), is the newly appointed Minister for Universities and Science [4], a post formerly held by David Willetts. Apparently, Johnson doesn’t know anything about Science. Does it matter?]

References

  1. Castelvecchi, D. (2015). Why the polls got the UK election wrong Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2015.17511
  2. Gibney, E. (2015). What the UK election results mean for science Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2015.17506
  3. Anon (2012). Books in brief: The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters Nature, 485 (7397), 173-173 DOI: 10.1038/485173a
  4. Gibney, E., & Van Noorden, R. (2015). UK researchers fret about downgrading of science minister role Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2015.17535

Thanks everyone who weighed in on twitter:

June 18, 2012

An Open Letter to David Rutley MP on the Geek Manifesto

The Geek Manifesto by Mark Henderson

Mr David Rutley MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Dear David,

The “Geek Manifesto” and the importance of science in politics

Please find enclosed a copy of a new book by Mark Henderson, titled “The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters”. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

According to the Financial Times:

The Geek Manifesto is the most compelling, engaging and entertaining account I’ve read of the relationship between science and politics. ” —James Wilsdon

The book laments the undervalued role of science in politics on pressing issues such as the global economy, healthcare, education, justice and the environment. For many politicians, science is a tool to be exploited when it supports an existing policy position, and an inconvenience to be discarded when it does not. As Henderson puts it, the cynical quest for policy-based evidence has trumped the desperate need for evidence-based policy. This is not surprising since only 1 in 650 British MPs has a Science qualification and his name is Julian Huppert. Your conservative colleague Adam Afriyie is proposing compulsory science literacy lessons for MPs in order to tackle this serious problem, but there is still a long way to go before science becomes integral to political decision making.

As well as the serious issues the book raises, it is also very positive and inspiring. The state of affairs it describes can not be blamed politicians alone. It is also the fault of people who value science and evidence based decision making – the “geeks”. We geeks must engage in the political process, not stand on the sidelines and moan – this is the geek manifesto.

This thinking led me to join a campaign for people to buy a copy of this book and send it to every MP in the UK set up by Dave Watts. The book you now have is a direct result of this campaign, which you and 649 other members of parliament now have a copy of. Despite the recession and challenging economic circumstances, over 300 ordinary voters like me have spent their own time and money in order to send you these books.

Please take the time to read your copy of the book. If politicians can learn from geeks, and geeks can learn from politicians, we will all get wiser and decision making can only improve. I would be especially interested to hear if and how this book has changed your decision making and will post any of your replies here on my blog.

Yours Sincerely

Dr. Duncan Hull

School of Computer Science
University of Manchester

P.S. A copy of this letter has been sent by post accompanied by a hardback copy of the Geek Manifesto. Another copy of this letter has been emailed to david.rutley.mp@parliament.uk. Some of the content of this post has been adapted from letters authored by Dave Watts and Chris Chambers.

Update, David Rutley sent a written reply (below) dated the 22nd June 2012, which didn’t reach me until the middle of July:


Dear Dr. Hull

Re: The Geek Manifesto

Thank you for your email of 18th June and letter enclosing a copy of the Geek Manifesto.

It was very thoughtful of you to think of me and I appreciate you sending me a copy of the book.

Like you, I believe it is important that science subjects are well represented in the House of Commons and society as a whole. It is important that young people are encouraged to study STEM subjects, so that the UK can compete on the international stage and our universities can continue to be world leaders in scientific research.

I will be sure to bear the views put forward in the Geek Manifesto in mind during my work in the House of Commons and in my conversations with Ministers.

Thank you once again for taking the time to send me a copy of the Geek Manifesto. I look forward to reading my copy.

With best wishes,

David Rutley MP

August 24, 2009

I bet you think this blog is about you, don’t you?

Science Online London 2009Last Saturday, The Royal Institution of Great Britain (R.I.) hosted a conference called Science Online London (#solo09) co-organised by mendeley.com and network.nature.com. The event centred around the fantastic Faraday Theatre which according to the R.I. is a “beautiful, historic theatre [which] has deeply raked seating that creates an intimate atmosphere, even when full to capacity”. Absolutely. Just like last year, this event attracted delegates and speakers from a wide range of backgrounds in science, publishing and communication from around the world. This post is an approximately alphabetically ordered link-fest of some of the people involved. People are, after all, the most interesting thing about any conference. If you’re not listed here it’s not because I don’t like you (honest!) it’s because we didn’t speak or I didn’t listen or (unlike many people) you’re not vain enough [1] to have a have a blog (yet) :-)

Now I’m told the presentations mentioned above will be on Nature Precedings in due course, which will be good. Thanks to all the organisers, speakers and participants this year that made Science Online London 2009 well worth attending. Hopefully see some more of you again next year!

References

  1. Carly Simon (1972) You’re So Vain
  2. Geoffrey Bilder (2006). In Google We Trust? Journal of Electronic Publishing, 9 (1) DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0009.101
  3. Matt Brown (2008). Venerable institute gets a refit Nature, 453 (7195), 568-569 DOI: 10.1038/453568a
  4. Matt Brown (2008). Reimagining the Royal Institution Nature, 453 (7195), 595-595 DOI: 10.1038/453595a
  5. Duncan Hull (2009). Slides from the author identity session: Authenticating Scientists with OpenID
  6. Jennifer Rohn and Richard P. Grant (2009). Pre-conference video: Live Roof Surfing at Mendeley Fringe Frivolous

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