Ban academics talking to ministers? We should train them to do it

Ben Goldacre in THE decries a backward step by the government.
Last month it was quietly announced that anyone receiving research grants from the state will be banned from lobbying “government and Parliament” on either policy issues or funding. The rule is said to be aimed principally at charities, but who knows the truth: in any case it covers all government grants “related to research and development”, and that means academics like me.

You might wonder how this came about. Presumably some unsuspecting charity worker or academic frightened one struggling politician who has, in the fog of war, overreacted. The ban is hardly improved by the fact that government departments can issue specific exemptions for approved individuals: if anything, that makes the whole project more sinister. A complex, centrally administered database of academics with permission to speak to politicians will be more expensive, more unmanageable and much more bizarre than any straight blanket ban.

Let me explain my concern. I’m an academic, and in the past two weeks I’ve had meetings with two ministers, one permanent secretary, one departmental director, and various other civil servants, analysts and wonks. I can only describe the process that led up to these meetings, if not the meetings themselves, as lobbying. But I also hope this activity is in the public interest. What’s more, I know there are many academics like me, seeking out politicians and senior civil servants on everything from alcohol to poverty, forestry and more. This is part of being a public servant, but it’s a practice without a public presence, toolkit, handbook or diploma.

That’s a problem. I don’t just want this ban overturned: I want to see more academics talking to policymakers, and I want the public to know what we do, so that they can decide if it’s good or bad. That’s why I’m now going to describe, in banal human terms, the meetings I’ve had in Whitehall over the past few weeks: to pool knowledge and share techniques, to promote transparency, and to help fearful, inexperienced politicians understand that there is nothing to fear from academics in practical outdoor clothing.

Labels: , ,

Could't agree with you more. Politicians need to be engaged by academicians to ensure development of sound policies! This would be a great way to bridge the gap between research and implementation of research to solve problems in society. Great article!
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?