Friday, 21 November 2008

Sums and science

So what do people think of Conservative plans to require new MPs to attend an induction course to teach them about science after the next election? Leaving aside the dubious precedents for this (i.e. the last scientist to lead the Tory Party, who may well have also been the first for all I know), is it actually possibly to learn anything useful about science in what would presumably be only a few hours?

I tend to rely the boffins on the Labour benches when I want something scientific explaining to me; take a bow, Dr Doug Naysmith and Dr Ian Gibson, who were both research scientists and certainly know their stuff. Howard Stoate MP is a 'proper', i.e. medical, doctor so he's useful too. Margaret Beckett used to be a metallurgist; not quite so useful.

By coincidence, we've just had an email through from Ian Gibson, asking MPs if they're "interested in attending an event on mathematics, consisting of seminars focusing on the relationship between policy making and mathematics". The topics covered are:
· The Mathematics of Transport - how mathematics is used to predict and organise traffic flows. How to optimise routes, traffic engineering etc.
· Computers that have not yet been built - Some computation problems that seem to be unapproachable by present day computers, and the possibility of a different computer logic that could attack them.
· Statistics - How to correctly interpret and use statistical data.
· Mathematics of Sport - How mathematics is used to design sport equipment, make models of athletes behaviour, and help them develop optimal motions.
· Tsunamis and Freak Waves - How to predict these natural disasters and develop efficient warning systems.

Again, I have no idea whether this would be useful or not. Do politicians need to know how to predict tsunamis? (Lembit of course is the man for predicting asteroid-earth collisions). The transport one might be quite useful in sorting out Temple Way roundabout, where the traffic lights completely defy logic


fuchsia groan said...

What MPs do need is experience of the real world, the one most of us live in. The one where we are not cushioned by public money, few questions asked, and guaranteed gold-plated pensions. Most MPs appear totally out of touch and dismissive of the concerns of 'the people'. £20 billion for this IT project, £12 billion for that. Small potatoes to the average MP. A lot of money to most of us. You want everything in the garden to be lovely. And I suppose it is. For the average MP. The rest of us are worrying about jobs and businesses and keeping the roof over our head. These nonsensical courses seem to be another manifestation of what our parliamentarians regard as important. A crash course in economics might be more useful, along with some history lessons.

Lord Elvis of Paisley said...

"I tend to rely the boffins on the Labour benches when I want something scientific explaining to me"

I'd like Labour MPs to learn the basics of the English language first before moving onto the tricky stuff.

John Pickworth said...

... along with some history lessons.


Although watching our Government in action is like bringing history alive... they're repeating all the same mistakes of the past.

DaveA said...

No one believed Blair on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no one believes the Labour Party on the dangers of passive smoking. Neither exist.

As someone who attended this years Tory bash in Brum, MPs and shadow cabinet ministers I spoke to were not aware they had been misled on the science of passive smoking.

This of course nulifies the legislation on the smoking ban. The reaction I got ranged from an open mind and will look into it, to I thought that was the case.

At least the Tories want to review the facts, unlike Labour.

Northern Lights said...

Yes Dave is right - the moon landing was fake fact I saw the Loch Ness Monster this week and he told me so.

swindon_alan said...

"Northern Lights said...

Yes Dave is right - the moon landing was fake fact I saw the Loch Ness Monster this week and he told me so."

I can really believe that you actually mean this. It is in line with NuLav thinking. Everybody else is wrong, their opinions are a joke, you are right.

Well sonny - it isn't staying like that for much longer. Botty smackings are a'coming. Mr Average is a wee bit fed up with the rubbish that is espoused by the likes of you.

Bring it on.

Elby the Beserk said...

The most important thing is to get rid of the career politician. Indeed, Hazel and myself agree on that, just as we do on this.

That's it, though.


What did you do before you went into politics?

MRab2 said...

I don't know if the Tories have the right idea, but given that policies are supposed to be science based would it not behoove politicians to be move science literate?
To those of us who are scientifically trained it's obvious there's currently a gigantic deficit within the corridors of power.
If, for examples, more politicians knew that epidemiological studies weren't actually a science, but only a mathematical tool - and a weak one at that (prone to interpretation and easy to "massage") then perhaps we could have avoided the blanking ban on smoking in public that's currently wrecking the hospitality industry.

Northern Lights said...

Swindon Alan - it was a joke - have the wit to appreciate humour (even the bad kind).

westcoast2 said...

"I tend to rely the boffins on the Labour benches when I want something scientific explaining to me"

How do you know that what they explain to you is correct? A basic grasp of science and stats would be helpful.

Take Global Warming - you voted for an 80% reduction in UK CO2 emissions. Do you know what effect that will have on the climate and at what cost? How much is CO2 in the atmosphere reduced if we meet that target? What temperature reduction would that give?

Are you aware there has been no statistically significant warming this century? Did you know the 'greenhouse effect' is a misnomer?

On the smoking ban, are you aware that the dose makes the poison? Do you know the difference between an absolute risk and a relative risk is?

Alex Salmond didn't, on question time he thought a 25% increase in risk of heart disease meant 25% of people were likely to have heart attacks.

Agenda science is all around. So just on these two major issues, it is worthwhile getting an understanding of science and stats.


The Penguin said...

Ah, but it is just as well that we have such a well qualified and experienced expert in charge of the economy.

Step forward small town lawyer and ex-Marxist Alistair Darling!!

Still, he is following on from an even less qualified Chancellor of the Exchequer, a part time lecturer from some obscure third rate polytechnic, author of a guide to cheating the benefits system and getting into bottle parties with some empty tins and a brick.

So that's all right, we're in safe hands.

The Penguin

La Bete said...

A basic understanding of maths, science and history is something all should have, especially those making decisions based on them.

I think an induction course would be a good idea. Of course a few hours might not give you much, but it could certainly show you the basics and hopefully encourage some critical thinking.

I imagine you get the Guardian Kerry - look at the Bad Science column on Saturdays and the associated blog ( I found this has greatly helped my understanding of science and public policy.

Kerry said...

I do read Bad Science, and just for the record, I don't rely on Doug and Ian all the time! Just when we start getting onto genomes and things. And Paul Smith for the astrophysics.