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Parliamentary Links Day 2020

Published: 01 Sep 2020 in Society news

Links Day was planned as a live virtual event, but due to technical difficulties on the day it was recorded and released later. This summary describes what the event entailed.

Parliamentary Links Day is the largest science event on the annual Parliamentary calendar, and brings together scientists, learned societies and MPs. The theme chosen this year was ‘Public trust in Science’. This choice was driven by the way science - or ‘the science’ - has been discussed and portrayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was made up of four keynote addresses and a panel discussion. Speakers and panelists expressed that, due to the prominent role that science is playing in dealing with COVID-19, not only has there been increased public interest in science and research, but its importance has been further recognised by decision makers. However, it is now important to reflect and learn from this period, particularly regarding transparency and openness in decision-making.

I do think that there is an absolute understanding inside Government now that science is important in all sorts of areas of Government. Where previously, you were pushing hard to get science heard, I do not think that will be the case going forward, and I think that will be to the benefit of a lot of Government and the policies that come out. 

- Sir Patrick Vallance in his keynote speech

The event began with introductions from the Royal Society of Biology and Stephen Metcalfe MP, who was chairing the event, and is a member of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Dame Eleanor Laing, Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, then welcomed viewers and highlighted the importance of strengthening the links between Parliament and the scientific community. She also commended the work being undertaken towards vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

The first keynote address was from Amanda Solloway MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. Her message was that science is for everybody and that in her view, increased public engagement can only be a good thing. 

A panel discussion between Professor Dame Anne Glover from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan from the Royal Society, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell from the Council for Science & Technology and Sir David Spiegelhalter from Cambridge University followed. This included questions about whether trust has been damaged during COVID-19, the best ways to communicate value and uncertainty of models, and how better public engagement, training and experience for research trainees can be best achieved. The British Pharmacological Society submitted questions ahead of the event and several of these questions were selected.

Read the panel’s answers to selected questions.

Following the panel discussion was a keynote address from Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. She said that we must take lessons learned from the pandemic as an opportunity to change the direction and culture of innovation, so it is more inclusive. She also emphasised that there needs to be high investment in education and lifelong skills.

Next came a keynote address and short Q&A from the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. He spoke about the importance of transparency and, noting the “rehabilitation of experts”, his view that there is going to be an increased role for science in public policy after this pandemic.

The event concluded with a keynote address and short Q&A from Professor Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor and Clinical Pharmacologist. Sir Patrick said that since the beginning of the pandemic, in the UK, the public are more likely to listen to scientific advice and that trust in science has increased. His experience of supporting government, especially through the pandemic, has led him to believe there is an absolute understanding that science is important across a range of policy areas. He noted that previously this had not always been the case. He was asked whether COVID-19 will change the way we conduct clinical research in the UK. He answered that it will, in some ways, and gave as an example the rapid way in which funding agencies have been able to support research, which could lead to a reduction in bureaucracy.

The event was closed by Dr Stephen Benn, Director of Parliamentary Affairs at the Royal Society of Biology.

For a more extensive summary of the event and Q&A sessions, please email Sophia McCully, BPS policy officer.