Call for science to get on soapbox

October 25, 2002

The scientific community should attend party political conferences to put more forcefully the case for science, according to Ian Gibson, chairman of the House of Commons science and technology select committee.

Dr Gibson said there was no advocacy for science in fringe meetings at the Labour conference, with barely any presence in the exhibition halls at Blackpool.

"Where are the learned bodies, the research councils, the Royal Society or the Association of Medical Charities?" he said. "They should be there among the movers and shakers putting the case for science in this country."

There was a handful of meetings at all three conferences that touched on science, including a debate hosted by Cancer Research UK and pharmaceutical firm Lilly on whether cancer patients in the UK reap the benefits of research, and a talk on medical genetics with the Bioindustry Association.

Several patients groups and drug companies were also involved in meetings and had stalls in the exhibitions.

The campaigning group Seriously Ill for Medical Research attended the Labour and Liberal Democrat conferences to put an alternative argument to the National Anti-Vivisection Society, which was also present.

Vicky Cowell, director of the SIMR, said she had noticed a decline in the number of science-related stalls in the conference exhibitions. "It is expensive to exhibit, but we have to make ministers and delegates aware that there is another side to the argument over the use of animals in medical research," she said.

Peter Cotgreave, director of the pressure group Save British Science, said his organisation did not have sufficient resources to make it worthwhile having an official presence at the conferences.

A spokeswoman for the Wellcome Trust said the medical charity attended last year and would consider taking part in future.

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