In an attempt to save the sinking ship that is his current government, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has extensively shuffled his cabinet. As part of this the science (formerly the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills [DIUS]) has been merged with business (formerly the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform [DBERR]) to form the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (DBIS). Paul Drayson will remain Minister of Science, but–in another twist–he’ll now also be moonlighting as Minister of Defence Procurement (a position he has held previously).
Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen of Drayson previously, both shifts seem to fit very well with his interest in science largely as an applied endeavor. These are worrying developments for a variety of reasons. This gives science a decreased prominence in the current government, both by being combined with another department and now sharing its minister with an only tangentially related area. And, philosophically at least, so closely tying science and defense to one another sends an unsettling message.
Interestingly, though, when some of these concerns were raised recently on Twitter, Drayson responded, leading to a back-and-forth conversation that spanned about an hour from what I can tell. Some of the participants–PD Smith, Sofia Collins, and Andrew Maynard–have published pretty detailed accounts on their blogs. This is an interesting development, and it’s certainly admirable of Drayson to engage in such open conversation, which is a positive step for democracy in general. Still, nothing he wrote seriously convinces me that either of these moves is a positive step for science, and I’m still pretty confident in my original reading of him–that he’s generally fairly out of touch with basic science. Still, at the end of the conversation, he did agree to write an op-ed for Times Higher Education, so I’ll stay tuned for that.
All of the political/policy issues aside, though, this conversation does illustrate the potential that a service like Twitter has to catalyze an interesting and important conversation that otherwise wouldn’t take place. It’s for its capacity as a new conduit of information and discussion that I set up a Twitter account not too long ago, and despite some initial skepticism, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well it has delivered.
Hat tip to Bora of A Blog Around the Clock