SCIENCE AND PUBLIC POLICY
By Basil Springer
We each value economic well being, health, security, opportunity and fundamental freedom for ourselves and for others. Beyond these, we treasure discovery, the cultivation of knowledge, science and artistic expression, each in and of itself as providing the means to better understand ourselves and our world. Such values distinguish human society. Public policy makers and scientists should work together to nurture and promote these enduring values based foremost on reason, conscience and the best information available - Extract from Recommendations for Government and the Scientific Community‚ (March 2004)
Dr. Agnes Herzberg, who was a professional colleague of mine in my post graduate days at London University almost forty years ago, has organized an annual conference on Statistics, Science and Public Policy since 1996. She assembles an international group of distinguished scientists, academics, experienced science journalists, consultants, senior civil servants and elected politicians to discuss the role of science and statistics in society.
These conferences have been held primarily at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex, England but also at Queen‚s University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Even though I have only been to three of them, I order the published proceedings annually. I have found these conferences to be extremely stimulating as well as an excellent networking experience.
Other extracts from the recent recommendations from these conferences, referred to above, are as follows: Science and statistics are widely misunderstood. One as the repository of truth rather than the seeking of truth in an uncertain world. The other as the mathematical manipulation of masses of data rather than the interpretation of quantitative evidence. Scientists and statisticians are not generally involved in public policy decisions in a systematic and productive way. It is appropriate to reconsider the role of scientists and statisticians.
The relationship between science and politics is necessary, sometimes close and often strained. Science is generally about conclusions whereas politics is about decisions. In the short term differences between the scientists and the politicians can be ameliorated by attention to the organization and presentation of scientific advice to governments. In the long term trust and mutual understanding can be actively developed between science, government and the general public. A broad liberal education is key. Scientists, educators and government have a responsibility and a role to play in this development‚.
Let us consider the opportunities for collaboration between science and public policy in some live examples in Barbados, all of which have value regarding economic well being for ourselves and for others.
The restructuring of the sugarcane industry is based on the philosophy of replacing commodity sugar with other diversified value added products of the sugarcane plant. Science has contributed technology for the breeding and growing of high fibre (fuel) cane to generate electricity and the separation of sugarcane stalks to produce wax, rind, pith and juice products to which value can be added before the finished goods reach the final consumer.
Secondly, the introduction of a vertically integrated Sea Island cotton industry is based on the philosophy of shifting from the sale of lint to the conversion of lint to finished products. Initially, this conversion will be done abroad but ultimately some of these processes may be done in the Caribbean. The resulting Caribbean owned fabric and finished goods will be sold with the assistance of merchandising experts in the global market.
Science has contributed technology for breeding and growing a unique strain of Sea Island cotton which exhibits superior characteristics (longer staple length, greater tensile strength, increased fineness, more lustre of sheen and a softer feel) when grown in the Caribbean Islands. Science has also contributed to the effective harvesting, ginning, seed management, spinning, knitting, weaving and manufacturing processes before the exotic finished goods can be produced.
A third example is the further development of the onion industry where the philosophy is to ensure that the onion demand in Barbados can be satisfied by locally produced onions year round. Science has contributed the technology for selection and growing of appropriate varieties which will store at ambient temperatures. Science has also provided the solar drying technology which allows us to use a renewable source of energy when it is necessary to harvest under moist conditions. Science has provided technology with which to construct this ambient drying and storage facility.
A fourth example is the development of the renewable energy industry where the philosophy is to use renewable sources of energy e.g. wind, solar, wave and ocean thermal energy conversion to generate electricity. This will partially replace the fossil fuel source , which is attractive, especially as oil prices continue to rise. Science has contributed the technology to produce many devices including wind turbines and photovoltaic solar cells to generate electricity. These technologies are in fact rapidly becoming more and more efficient and cost effective.
Government policies are needed to be appropriately coupled with all four of these initiatives to ensure optimal governance (the effective management of relationships), incentives, innovative financial instruments and other efficient regulatory and service functions. The benefits to Government and the country will be foreign exchange earnings and savings, employment, energy security, food security, an aesthetic physical environment and an efficient use of resources.
It is appropriate for scientists and statisticians to become more involved in determining public policy in the Caribbean.
(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) - http://www.cbet-inc.org