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In Talk at AAAS, U.K. Science Adviser
Reports on Future of Science in U.K.
U.S. scientists and policymakers were reminded on Tuesday that the United Kingdom (U.K.) is second only to the United States in publishing scientific papers, and that the island nation's $3-billion yearly investment in science is considerable, given the relatively modest size of its population.
During a talk on Tuesday at AAAS, David King, who heads the U.K.'s Office of Science and Technology (OST) of the United Kingdom, also reported, however, that the public perception of science in the United Kingdom is not as positive as that revealed in surveys of Americans.
"For people in the U.S.," said King, "most agree that (science and technology) make our lives better. The U.K. is not so accepting, particularly in its attitude toward biotechnology."
King's report on science policy in the United Kingdom covered a range of topics, among them the OST's response to an economically-devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and the U.K.'s perspective on therapeutic cloning and climate change.
He described the OST as having worked "day and night" to provide sound scientific guidance to the government in the midst of the 2001 epidemic of hoof-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious viral disease that affects cows and other cloven-hoofed animals.
"It was imperative to act fast," said King, whose official title is Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government. "This (experience) established science at the middle of the government."
The OST has also guided U.K. policy regarding genetically-modified organisms, the subject of public opposition in Europe, where there is widespread resistance to the use of biotechnology in the production of food.
"We need openness and transparency," King said. "Scientists have a valid position in the debate, but no more than a valid position. The public also has a valid position."
On the subject of climate change, and efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gasoline, King said that the nations of the world would have to move toward, "zero net carbon emissions." He said that by 2010, the United Kingdom intends to reduce such emissions by 20 percent below the levels documented in 1990.
"We need to all act together," King added. "The Kyoto protocol (which calls for mandatory reduction of emissions by the end of 2010) is only a beginning. But it's important because it is a process."
King noted that there is increasing interaction between the worlds of industry and academia, and that many university scientists have begun setting up their own private companies to explore commercializing their ideas.
"From 1999 to 2000, 199 spin-out companies were formed, compared to 26 in 1997-1998." King said. "We have yet to produce a Hewlett Packard, but we do have ARM (which produces microchips for mobile telephones worldwide.)"
The future of the U.K.'s scientific enterprise will depend on securing the confidence of both the public and of other stakeholders, King said. "We need to be honest about uncertainties, and have a robust, open debate on the ethical and social implications of scientific developments."
"I want to make sure the U.K. is one of the best places in the world to do science," King added. "For that we need people, equipment and infrastructure to be properly funded."
King's words provided a broader context for the issues that U.S. policymakers deal with, said Al Teich, Director of the AAAS Directorate for Science and Policy, which had invited the U.K.'s science advisor to speak. "Professor King's presentation illustrates how even such a culturally similar nation as the U.K. often handles such issues in ways different from the United States," Teich said.
More information on King's presentation is available on the AAAS Science and Policy website.
11 October 2002