The development of the Periodic Table is perhaps one of the finest feats of human ingenuity. In this, the year of the Periodic Table, I found myself reflecting on the lessons we can learn from its legacy.
Not only did the Periodic Table provide an accurate way of classifying elements, it predicted the existence of undiscovered elements within its structure. In a similar vein, how much could policymakers learn from what already exists to discover robust policy? Could May learn from Mendeleev?
Allow me to expand on my somewhat obscure link between chemistry and UK policymaking. Immigration policy in the UK is something that CaSE spends a lot of time thinking about, partly because it is so complicated. Since 2010, the Home Office has made over 5,700 immigration rule changes, resulting in doubling the length of immigration guidance in the UK. Although individual changes may be simple in themselves, many were considered in isolation of other rules that then required additional rule changes. It’s anyone’s guess what the Periodic Table would look like if it was developed in the same way as immigration policy in this decade. As the Government develops a new post-Brexit immigration system, the Home Office can learn from its past policy work in creating a system that can enhance security while reducing burden.
Solving problems in an analytical manner is something that policymakers can also learn from 19th and 20th Century scientists. The uptake of scientific advice, and the in-house capacity to solve problems in a scientific way, only serves to increase the rigour of the policymaking process. This is something that I recently took to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, asking them to review how Government departments use scientific advice and the structures that exist to facilitate the inclusion of scientific advice. Science is fundamentally about solving problems and the task facing policymakers has arguably never been greater as the UK sets to navigate leaving the EU. We believe that scientific advice will only enhance Government’s ability to create future proof, forward-looking policies for the good of the UK.
I think it is fair to say that unlike the Periodic Table, Brexit has not followed a consistent path. However, with the use of logic, analysis and scientific advice in developing new policies, the UK could well set itself on a path to predict the policies that will complete the puzzle.
James Tooze is Policy Officer at the Campaign for Science and Engineering