In Conversation with the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government
Did you miss this ABSW and Science Museum event, would you like to know more?
Board member and organiser of the event Bob Ward has written a blog post on the event along with a full audio recording.
ABSW member Alison Cooper has also provided a brief review:
Dr Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser outlined his vision and priorities for science, within the current international climate.
Science relies on international collaboration across the world. The UK ‘punches above its weight’ in terms of research output. Brexit presents a risk of the scientific community not being open to individuals, and these interactions are essential. He will aim to keep the UK as close as possible to EU research initiatives, whatever happens.
Globally scaled case studies can demonstrate the UK’s contribution e.g the ‘Ebola Crisis in Conga’ gives insight into how vaccines work in a real situation. This is under reported because of war.
There are exciting developments in genetic editing, such as CRISPR babies and germ line therapy, for example to treat HIV. It is important to bear in mind, there may be off target, unintended, ‘late effects’ that can’t be known for many years. Preventative therapy is a big step if a person may not be at risk.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a disruptive technology. There are some areas where it could be beneficial, such as finding patterns in data, and opportunities to look at processes. Public expectations about AI, for example replacing people in jobs, present a danger of it not being used when it could be effective and save time. We should resist this, recognise potential biases, regulate, and aim to improve it for the NHS. Increasing the diversity of algorithm builders and coders is important.
Information from NHS and stored in the Biobanks positions the UK ahead in international research. He wants to ensure that use of public data benefits the NHS.
The newly formed UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), previously RCUK, has an influential agenda for multidisciplinary research. This is needed for translational research (route to public/patients). Gaps in the funding landscape need to be addressed, to resource all parts of the pipeline, recognising research is not a linear process. This includes support for fundamental, ‘blue skies’ research. The pull through to innovation (products) needs strengthening and could make use of Systems Engineering Processes, with a move towards an ‘investment’ rather than ‘grants’ culture.
He is fascinated by the potential for emerging data visualisation tools. These can transform policy decision making.
He recognised the importance of supporting diverse career pathways for opportunities in science and to consider broader practical and people implications for research.
Here's how we promoted the event:
Would you like to know how Brexit will affect British science? Or the threats that antimicrobial resistance and climate change pose to the UK? Or the impact of the UKRI/research council shake up? Or how we should manage the risks and opportunities of artificial intelligence?
These are some of the searching questions that you could ask Dr Patrick Vallance in one of his first public outings as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government.
Dr Vallance took up his new post in April 2018 following a distinguished career in medical research and the pharmaceuticals industry, including a period as President of Research and Development at GlaxoSmithKline.
In a unique appearance at the Science Museum's Lates, Dr Vallance will begin by outlining his priorities before being quizzed by Dr Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs at the Museum, and former editor of New Scientist and science editor of The Daily Telegraph, and will also take questions from the audience.
If you are a member of the Association of British Science Writers and want to hear answers from the UK Government’s top scientist, without the intervention of a spin doctor, then join us at the Science Museum on Wednesday 28 November.