Adam Afriye on the scientific profession

“A scientific career is a sexy career.”

– Adam Afriye, writing in People & Science

With a General Election looming (not before time, some might say) in the UK, the British Science Association's quarterly magazine, People & Science, asked the science spokesmen of the three major political parties how they see public engagement in science.

Lord Drayson, speaking for the Labour Party, wants to 'challenge elitist images of science,' connecting it to sport and cooking and concentrating on the benefits that science and engineering bring to people. Drayson also talks about his government's 'record investment' in science and says that 'scientific advances are more important than ever in securing strong economic growth' – statements that sounds hollow to any researcher currently facing a shrinking pool of grant money.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman for science, Dr Evan Harris, also mentions 'elitism' and wants to bridge the 'them and us' divide. He promises to cut the debt burden of students wanting to make careers in teaching and research, and increase all PhDs to four years, the extra time being used for teaching and public engagement. He calls science a 'public good, just like art and sport'. Harris claims that the LibDems have 'made the case for' open access publishing, and says that allowing more access to the literature can help the public and the media distinguish real science from pseudoscience.

In addition to astutely observing that scientists are sexy, Afriye, the Conservative Party's Minister for Science, also wants to pay off student loans, but only of those top graduates who want to teach science. He supports the media in their role in communicating the sexiness of science, and says they cannot be blamed for scaremongering over controversial issues; we must, he says, support scientific literacy and communication. Afriye mentions the Nutt case and says that maintaining confidence in the system of independent scientific advice must be a priority, regardless of which party wins the election.

The entire piece is available as a PDF from the British Science Association website.