I am going to do it again... it’ll make a fool of me, I’m sure of it, but I am going to talk about the current political situation and how it relates to science.
Though, by the time you read this, the ‘current political situation’ might simply encompass some burning embers where the Houses of Parliament once stood. Despite that, here is what I have been wondering – is organ grinder-in-chief Dominic Cummings good for UK science?
I am by-passing the Prime Minister (I mean Boris, but again by the time you read this etc etc...) here because his flappy, confused and babbling pronouncements on science mean I have no choice but to assume he doesn’t know what it is.
But Mr Cummings – that Thomas Cromwell of our age – well, quite the enigma isn’t he. Seemingly derided by all sides for many reasons, but I suspect that if nothing else he is a man with a plan. What that plan is, well therein lay an incredible amount of room for manoeuvre. But whatever it is, science and technology appear to play a big part.
At the recent Tory party conference, for example, a fund was announced which will help companies commercialise medical breakthroughs – it isn’t much, and we all know politicians across the land are now in ‘pre-election-promise’ mode but taken at face value, it is the latest in a series of positive moves for science.
James Wilsdon, Professor of Research Policy at The University of Sheffield certainly thinks so. Speaking to the BBC, he said: "The mood music and what has come out of the Johnson government on the science base is, if anything, more enthusiastic than it was from the May and Cameron governments.” And there are many politico-insiders who think the "energy" for driving science on to the agenda comes from Mr Cummings.
And, while it seems clear Brexit will be bad for science, many other moves by the current government seem to suggest they are prioritising science. So, is this just a damage limitation exercise? Possibly – but for Mr Cummings I suspect that it may be more than just a move. His extended blog entries suggest a man committed to the idea of a technological future. A future in which science is not only empowered by government, but one in which it is embedded within the processes of governmental decision-making itself.
Data, for example, is key to his thinking. He often quotes data scientists and suggests that to benefit from big data, government – in fact all institutions – need something of a revolution when it comes to visualising and using evidence. He talks of tapping into the world’s best scientific minds and creating ‘chief rationalist’ positions in the heart of government.
So, he likes data and, apparently, he wants to fund science... so I’ll ask again, could it be that the most hated man in the UK is in fact good for science?
It’s plausible. He sees himself as visionary realist who wants to surf the wave of a crisis to a future powered by science and technology. Yet it is his role in creating that crisis the very community who could realise his scientific future will not forget.
In truth he’ll never be forgiven for his campaign to leave the EU by most scientists in the UK. A campaign in which lies were told. A campaign which through its success has already done real damage to the UK’s standing in the scientific community. And in a climate of hand-waving political rhetoric and genuine anger, perhaps that is as close to an answer as we’ll get.