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

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

April 28, 2010

Philip Campbell on Science Facts and Frictions

Philip Campbell: Will you pay for good online stuff, Dammit? (Libraries do, thankfully)As part of the Gates Distinguished Lecture Series editor Philip Campbell is giving a public lecture at 6.30pm tonight titled Science – facts and frictions at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. The abstract and text below is reproduced from talks.cam.ac.uk:

Climategate’, MMR vaccine, GM crops, stem cells – these are examples of public debates in which science and scientists have come under attack. And yet the processes of science were no different in kind from those in calmer territories, such as cancer research, where the public not only trusts researchers but directly donates half a billion pounds every year in their support. Why are there such contrasts? And what can scientists and others do in response to such attacks? The talk will offer some suggestions.

As Editor-in-Chief of Nature, Philip Campbell heads a team of about 90 editorial staff around the world. Dr. Campbell takes direct editorial responsibility for the content of Nature editorials, writing some of them. He is the seventh [1] Editor-in-Chief since the journal was launched in 1869.

Dr. Campbell’s role as Editor-in-Chief of Nature publications (of which there are many editorially independent journals and several websites) is to ensure that the quality and integrity appropriate to the Nature name are maintained, and that appropriate individuals are appointed as chief editors. He sits on the executive board of Nature’s parent company, Nature Publishing Group.

According to the accompanying press release from the University, Campbell:

“is particularly interested in groups of scientists who regularly produce blogs in order to help the public and journalists gain access to their perspectives on scientific developments and controversies.”

So, if you’re in or near Cambridge tonight, this talk is open the public and looks like it will be enlightening.

[Update, some interesting things mentioned in this talk in no particular order:


  1. Philip Campbell (1995). Postscript from a new hand Nature, 378 (6558), 649-649 DOI: 10.1038/378649b0
  2. Daniel Sarewitz (2004). How science makes environmental controversies worse Environmental Science & Policy, 7 (5), 385-403 DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2004.06.001

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