The pandemic has clearly demonstrated to the whole UK population that science and innovation significantly and directly impacts the quality of their day-to-day lives. Scientists have gained positive public profiles that they (undeservedly) never had before. Public trust in scientists has grown. In contrast, senior politicians have been shown to be lacking in basic scientific knowledge and understanding, and the absence of experienced scientists and engineers in the UK government has been exposed. Without the development of vaccines by scientists, politicians would have no practical solutions to offer the country to overcome the pandemic.
The irony of this situation is that the UK has world-leading scientists in universities and industry, so it is not as though there are insufficient candidates for more scientists to work in government. Yet the current UK Minister for Science is a low-ranking official buried within the BEIS department. None of the holders of this ministry in recent times have had any significant scientific background.
This proposal is not about restarting the (largely futile) debate about the background and experience of MPs and government ministers, or how far ministers can rely on their officials. However, there is one very simple policy that can be enacted and set forth as a statement of intent that this situation must change in the future in the field of science.
The Minister for Science should be designated as a Cabinet position. The post should not be held by an MP but by a scientist on a rotating (say 2 year) basis. Such a position would be very attractive to senior scientists, who are by nature extremely creative and would welcome the chance to develop such a role to represent the UK’s scientific community, attracting strong and credible candidates.