Houses of parliament at night

From lab bench to back bench

Image courtesy of Dreamstime - Roland Nagy


Plymouth Marine Laboratory scientist spends a week in Westminster.

Caroline HattamDr Caroline Hattam from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) will be swapping a lab coat for legislation when she visits Tom Reid in the Department of Transport at the House of Commons for a week in Westminster. The week (23-26 November) is part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society- the UK’s national academy of science, with support from the Government Office for Science.

During her visit Caroline will shadow Mr Reid and learn about his work. As well as attending seminars and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policy making, while in Westminster Caroline will also attend a mock Select Committee.

The visit will provide the scientists with a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how research can be used to make evidence based decisions. It will also give the Westminster host the opportunity to investigate the science behind decisions and improve their access to scientific evidence.

The week will begin with a reception in parliament where Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Science and Universities will speak about the value of UK research and the important role of scientific advice in parliament. Nicola Blackwood MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee will also speak about the Committee’s plans to investigate the evidence underpinning Government policies.

“I shadowed Tom Reid from the Department for Transport and was also lucky enough to spend some time with my local MP, Gary Streeter. Tom will visit PML in February to gain hands-on experience of environmental socio-economics.” 

I wanted to take part so that I could learn more about how Parliament works and how scientific evidence is used in the policy-making process. As my research examines how people are affected by changes in the marine environment and, is therefore relevant to marine policy in particular, I also wanted to find out how I could make my own research more visible to the people making policy decisions.

- Caroline Hattam

The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK.

Dr Julie Maxton, Executive Director of the Royal Society said: “Our world faces challenges that can only be addressed with a solid understanding of science. From climate change mitigation and adaptation to GM regulation, policy makers must make decisions about issues which will affect the lives of all those in the UK, and often, the global community. We must rely on them to make sound decisions based on the best available evidence when tackling these complex issues.”

“Scientists and policy makers have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making. The Royal Society’s pairing scheme, now in its 15th year, provides an opportunity for MPs and scientists to build long term relationships to make the best evidence and scientific advice increasingly accessible. The shaping of public policy can only improve over time as these relationships continue to grow.”

The Royal Society pairing scheme has seen 334 scientists, 139 MPs, 3 Peers and 91 Civil Servants take part. Previous participants include former MEPs Caroline Lucas, now Green MP for Brighton, and Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam.

Further information about the Royal Society pairing scheme, as well as case studies, can be found at the following link:

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, reflected in its founding Charters of the 1660s, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. The scheme is supported by The Government Office for Science. The Government Office for Science ensures that government policies and decisions are informed by the best scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking. It is led by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, who advises the Prime Minister and Cabinet on all scientific matters.

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