Wednesday 2 November 2011

Day 3 in Westminster

So, today I've been to a Science and Technology Select Committee meeting asking questions about the Met Office. The public are welcome to sit in on these meetings, and there were 4 or 5 rows of chairs at the back of the room for this purpose. MPs and civil servants sit around a horseshoe-shaped table, interviewing expert witnesses who sit in a line across the end of the horseshoe. In this case they were interviewing the chiefs of the Met Office. The questions were mostly read from a script, and the aim was to obtain more information on whether the Met Office is doing what it should be doing as a public service, what could be improved, what (supercomputer) investments were needed and where the money for that might come from. They asked about their collaborations - who do they collaborate with, how are the relationships with private sector and academia and how much more could be done. They asked about how they were planning to make their data more accessible: to the academics, to businesses and to the public (and the problem of how to communicate uncertainty to the public). They asked a whole range of diverse questions, which the Met Office seemed to answer easily, and it felt like they had very little real opposition from the panel. That might be because the Met Office does do an excellent job, it might be because the panel didn't know how to ask probing questions about the supercomputing resources necessary (or understand the answers they might get), or simply because that wasn't in their remit, I don't know.

How do MPs learn enough about a subject to be able to conduct Select Committee interviews, to debate an issue in the Commons, or to make an informed choice whether to vote aye or no to a Bill? This is what I'm curious to find out. And then, how can the scientific community best help them to make such informed choices when they need that advice?

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