No ministry, says minister

A Ministry for Science would make scientific decision making in the UK worse, not improve it, science minister Lord Sainsbury claimed this week. He also rejected the idea that the Office of Science and Technology should be moved to the Cabinet Office. The ideas were floated in September by Professor Colin Blakemore during the British […]

A Ministry for Science would make scientific decision making in the UK worse, not improve it, science minister Lord Sainsbury claimed this week.

He also rejected the idea that the Office of Science and Technology should be moved to the Cabinet Office. The ideas were floated in September by Professor Colin Blakemore during the British Association science week.

Lord Sainsbury said this week in a lecture to the Social Market Foundation: ‘I don’t think either of these ideas would improve scientific decision making, and in the case of the Ministry of Science I think it would make things worse.’

He pointed out that 40% of public expenditure on the science base was channelled through the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and that government departments would all want ‘ownership of the science relating to their particular areas of policy’.

He also rejected suggestions that the Office of Science and Technology’s location within the Department of Trade and Industry, rather than the Cabinet Office, was inappropriate.

‘Inevitably decisions about the science base need to be coordinated with decisions about industrial innovation which the DTI has to take.

‘The most successful country in the world in terms of exploiting its science base is the US,’ he said, pointing out that the US has a similar system to Britain.

Lord Sainsbury said the UK should learn from California’s Silicon Valley how to establish clusters of high-tech firms based on spin-offs from research.

Virtual video-babe Lara Croft (below) of the Tomb Raider computer game would make a better symbol of British scientific achievement today than scientific worthies such as Stephenson or Faraday, science minister Lord Sainsbury said this week in his speech to the Social Market Foundation. ‘I want people, when they think of this country, to think of such scientific achievements as Thrust, the first supersonic car, rather than Stephenson or Faraday. I want Lara Croft of Eldos’s Tomb Raider computer game to be an ambassador for British scientific excellence,’ he said.