By Claire Packman – Egenis Communications Officer
The last of this season’s party political conferences was the Conservative conference, which took place in Birmingham and it was my turn to help in running the EGN fringe event.
Security, as Toni has already mentioned in her blog post, was extremely tight, and I felt pretty self-conscious carrying the case containing the EGN banner down Broad Street, which was lined with barriers, turnstiles and police. Everyone was charming, though, and security staff laughed and joked even as they frisked me for hidden newsletters and flyers – oh, apparently that isn’t what they were looking for.
Like many fringe events, our session, ‘Why science needs social science,’ was held in the plush surrounds of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. While I was waiting for the speakers (Professors John Dupré, Barry Barnes and Joyce Tait), Michael Gove swept past, clutching a box of Star Wars Lego under his arm – good thing he’s education, not defence.
We were fortunate to have George Freeman MP to introduce us. Mr Freeman, a strong advocate of UK science, has his own small business, 4D Biomedical, working with NHS Trusts, universities and clinical scientists to develop new medical technologies.
Our very knowledgeable audience listened intently to the speakers. Barry discussed risk perception and risk management. He pointed out that ‘normal accidents’ are bound to happen when work is taking place at the edge of technology. They can’t be eliminated altogether, but contingency plans could be put in place. Joyce spoke about the ways in which the benefits of research may be hampered by regulation. 'The need for change is urgent, and the current innovation system is unsustainable,' she said. It seemed as though everyone in the audience had a question to put or a point to make, and the discussion continued until the British Humanists threw us out of the room.
I went on to another fringe event, organised by the Royal Society, asking whether scientific research can secure our future prosperity, at which David Willetts was among the speakers. I found that many of the same people who had attended our event were there too, and some similar issues raised, including the importance of social science. It was great to feel that we were contributing to a larger, ongoing debate.