Global warming was not high on the Victorians’ agenda as anyone who attends a summer event in parliament will attest. But the heat is usually a good sign that your event is packed and the conversation flowing. So it was with yesterday’s excellent All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research summer reception.
The show of strength at the event – which brought together medical research charities, funders, the university sector, other science organisations, MPs and Peers including two Ministers (David Willetts and Lord Howe) – felt well-timed given the summer recess in a few days time and the hard negotiations over the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in a time of economic drought.
I was especially delighted that the research showcased in the room and accompanying event programme had clearly struck a chord with the Science Minister, David Willetts. In his speech he highlighted that this was just the sort of evidence the Government was looking for and that he was minded to send a copy to HM Treasury. They, and you, can find it here! And shortly we will post photos from the event on AMRC’s website.
It seems as if the world is besotted right now with the gathering of evidence about research and its economic and social return; the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is imploring the community for economic analyses, examples, case studies and vignettes. And it seems the same is true for other sectors in contact with other Departments. Out of such trends, industries are created.
In this hive of activity, not a few of my colleagues have wondered aloud: ‘What are all those economists in the Treasury and across Government doing if they are so dependent on us for the data?’ A good question. Answers on a postcard please, or better still there is perhaps a lightbulb joke in the making.
Although we will learn the results of this exercise on 20th October it does all feel a little Kafkaesque. Who knows, in twenty years time we may well find ourselves opening a locked door marked ‘Science Settlement 2010’ leading to an underground vault in HM Treasury. It will reveal masses of CSR submissions along one wall, copious evidence of impact (some of it undisturbed) against another, and a few untidy, intriguing but essentially meaningless civil service notes on a low-down shelf against the third. But we wouldn’t really be any the wiser for the revelations.
For the fact is, we can never be sure how it all adds up in the end.
(My next blog will be one continuous sentence lasting over a page)