Public will join science forum

September 13, 2002

Foresight, the government's flagship scheme for picking out key developments in science, is to be restructured and opened up to public participation, science minister Lord Sainsbury said this week at the British Association's science festival in Leicester.

He told The THES that future Foresight projects will be quicker than the two years taken to complete the first batch of Foresight, and that the early projects had covered topics too big to produce useful conclusions.

Instead, the next batch will be chosen from a dozen ideas hatched by a group of 12 senior scientists led by David King, chief scientific adviser to the government, in the light of public response. Lord Sainsbury said:

"We are after subjects where there is an important new technology or where there are significant policy issues for government."

The topics chosen will be added to two announced this week: flood defences and the brain's cognitive systems. Lord Sainsbury said that the first was a major policy problem and the second a fast-moving area of science with implications in areas such as the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

He said that previous Foresight analyses had affected government spending priorities "a little", but that he expected future Foresight work to be more influential on government policy and on public spending. Lord Sainsbury said: "Some of our reports like one on crime were taken up, in that case by the Home Office. It contained very practical advice on the implications of current science and technology. We want Foresight to produce useful views and information which is going to feed directly into the policies of different government departments."

Transport, health and land use are among topics in the new round of Foresight proposals.

Lord Sainsbury said that the Foresight model had been "looked at widely" as an example for other countries, and the new version would "take it forward again".

He added that the Department of Trade and Industry might carry out Foresight studies not on the list now up for consultation if a good enough idea was suggested.

The full list can be found at www.foresight.gov.uk

• Persuading more schoolchildren to read science at university and to become science teachers are among the aims of Planet Science, the revamped Science Year, which has been extended to run until July 2003.

Director Mike Tomlinson told the BA that ministers at the Department for Education and Skills had approved an extension because of the success of Science Year, which had cash from the DFES and is run by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. So far it has spent about £4 million, much of it used to provide equipment for schools including digital microscopes for every primary school.

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