Science minister Jo Johnson and a range of other political figures were quizzed by young scientists on topics as diverse as artificial intelligence, gene editing, research funding, STEM careers, post-truth politics and space exploration during the Society’s Voice of the Future event yesterday.
The event turns the tables on MPs and gives students and young scientists – representing over a dozen science organisations and several schools – the chance to scrutinise politicians and their advisors in a House of Commons committee room.
Broadcast live on Parliament.TV, the event created enough interest online that at one point ‘#VOF2017’ was trending on Twitter above Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Commons U-turn.
Johnson, appointed Minister for Universities and Science in 2015, responded to questions on academic freedom, Brexit, and investment in science, and reemphasised the Government’s commitment to investing in research, which he said would equate to the biggest increase in R&D spending in 40 years.
“Research is a big priority for this Government,” he told he told the committee of school students, undergraduates and early career scientists. We have made it clear we are going to put real resources behind this endeavour.”
Other panellists included shadow science minister Chi Onwurah, Government chief scientific advisor Sir Mark Walport, and members of the Science and Technology Select Committee.
Walport, recently appointed chief executive of the UK’s new overarching research body UKRI, took questions on science publishing, science careers and science regulation post-Brexit.
He said much of the EU regulation on research had been influenced by the UK’s own legislation, and so the UK would be well-placed to regulate itself once it leaves the EU.
Greg Satchell, an early career forensic scientist who works for the Thames Valley police force, said it was a ‘privilege’ to represent members of the RSB in parliament.
“Very few people in my position ever get this opportunity, so being able to represent the Royal Society of Biology on behalf of scientists in my field is definitely a milestone in my career”.