How about the ministers go next?
Even better - how about a few ministers who already have a STEM background?
UK citizens wondering if Whitehall civil servants really "get" technology may be heartened to learn that the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology have signed up for the STEM Futures scheme. According to DSIT: "The scheme puts civil servants together with a diverse range of experts who all have a shared interest, …
What should that be good for? Everything is well with the PPEs and classics graduates in charge, right? /s
It’s not just in the UK though. Here in Portugal law graduates seem to dominate politics, in Denmark it is a mix of graduates of law, political science and economics (but they only do one of them, and then usually a masters).
I am afraid numerate and scientifically literate people find something more rewarding to do.
Certainly having law in the mix is sensible - legislators pass laws. Economics? You need some economics input and having N economists you can certainly rely on having at a minimum N + 1 opinions. Political science - maybe the fewer the better.
But as to getting numerate and scientifically literate people involved there's a problem. On the sort of sites they frequent - such as this - there's a default assumption of all politicians being corrupt. However useful someone from STEM thinks they may be if they did go into politics how likely are they to take that step when they know how their peers will regard them. The assumption becomes self-fulfilling and we should avoid it.
" were written in a way normal mortals could understand."
A lot of laws these days are drafted with the help of lobby groups and small working groups who might or might not be choosing wording specifically to make it unintelligible, the better to hide their built-in loopholes. Most MPs are just presented with a giant pile of paper that they don't even have time to read, let alone understand, before they have to vote for it.
which was dismantled in the 1990's. With the traditional civil service ethic of providing expert, impartial advice to ministers, and being grilled on their advice at every step in the chain.
Then we can get shot of the unholy mix of commercial chancers, single issue lobby groups, and academics ticking off their "impact" KPI. Over all of which there is no quality control, no cross check on "agendas", and no accountability for the results of their input.
"I am afraid numerate and scientifically literate people find something more rewarding to do."
It isn't just that they have something more rewarding, it's that they are actually working at jobs that usually require fixed hours working for a nameless corporation, and whose "clients" are mainly internal to the firm, or are other companies. Lawyers who have their own law offices (and also any other professionals in local practice eg doctors or architects) can carve out a more flexible schedule for themselves, and very often their clients and constituents are one and the same. Both those give them a big advantage in campaigning and name recognition when it comes to voting time.
Some legal knowledge is useful when understanding laws, but honestly what is really needed is for parliament to hire lawyers and legal secretaries who can support the parliamentarians, not for the parliamentarians to have to be lawyers. So, absolutely the system would benefit from having more technically-minded MPs, but the selection process is rigged (whether by historical accident or design) in favour of certain professions.
"f they have STEM, they're already smart enough to know they don't want to be a minister, or any other politician."
Wasn't Mrs. Thatcher a chemist? With a degree in chemisty-stuff? Y'know, sort of like a Real Scientist? I think she was a sort of politician for a while?
And aren't there actual Medical Doctors in the UKland Parliament? Do M.D's count as "Real" Scientists?
And I'm wiling to be corrected but don't UKland M.P.'s generally get loads more money, more holidays and less work than "Real Scientists"? So isn't that
*far* smarter than working in Science?
Be careful what you ask for. You might get it. Herbert Hoover was a STEM guy, from Stanford, starting as a mechanical engineer before switching to geology, and before being a politician, was a professional mining geologist.
Dwight David Eisenhower had a STEM degree from the USMA at West Point.
James Earl Carter, Jr., had a STEM degree from the USNA at Annapolis.
Several other Presidents and Senators have been graduates of the USMA or USNA, with alleged STEM degrees, 'cause that's what those institutions hand out. Few of them have actually used their alleged STEM education; some were very good, some were bad, most were mediocre. Hoover, who was in the 'pioneer' very first class to graduate from Stanford, did use his STEM education. And was an utter disaster as a president. As far as I know he's the only President with a STEM degree who didn't graduate from one of the military academies. It is possible that most don't want another Hoover.
Hoover was never a populist president: calling him a "disaster" is just Democrat partisanship. His inability to control congress was partly due to not being a demagog, but it's shear fantasy to suppose that a Democrat leader, even Roosevelt, would have been able to do better with that (Republican, fiscally conservative) congress.
Although it is common ground that he was not a successful president, it's not easy to see how anybody else could have been more successful in that position. Different, yes, successful, no. He was pre-Keynesian like Roosevelt, but he wasn't populist like Roosevelt, and he was saddled with the start of the Great Depression, which he did not cause. His economic and foreign policies, where he was able to implement them were good.
It's possible to argue that Presidents should be career politicians, rather than self-made millionaires or technocrats, without calling Hoover a 'disaster'.
Margaret Thatcher, Chemist
I leave the reader to decide for themselves whether she was a good PM or a bad one. (Speaking for myself, I lived through Thatcherism, (I was born in the 70's) and the worst PM this country has had in my lifetime is David Cameron, who misused a national referendum in a miserably failed attempt to sort out internal party struggles. Yes, I really do think he was worse than Liz Truss.)
There are a few - well two at the moment. Therese Coffey did Chemistry, and Kemi Badenoch did Computer Systems Engineering. Of recent ministers, Alok Sharma did Physics, and Nadhim Zahawi was a Chemical Engineer. The last senior politician with a STEM background was probably Margaret Thatcher.
Experience at the sharp end of the world outside Whitehall will come from tech companies, research institutes and universities. Universities - sharp end - ha, ha, ha.
Even the "research institutes" are now often government funded adjuncts to universities. The days of major company R&D labs, ultimately beholden to the product production directors, are gone. So that just leaves "tech companies" - potentially some good exchanges, or some bad ones if they choose the subsidy junkies who are part of the problem.
I thought they'd had enough of experts.
"It is also participating in the Expert Exchange scheme"
Must be someone in the dept. with a sense of humour who remembers why the similarly named Experts Exchange website didn't use the URL www.expertsexchange.com
I dunno, I really don't want to see a politician using the BOFH as a guide. I mean sure, watching the rest of the politicians go out the window via the wood chipper would be fun, but then we're left with a bloodthirsty megalomaniac interested only in self enrichment and torture for amusement. That never goes over well for the common muck.
"I think the last national politician to really understand engineering was Stanley Baldwin"
Didn't Mrs T have a degree in chemistry before she defected to the political classes?
As others have pointed out, most stem folks have better / more interesting / useful / profitable things to than wallow in the festering sewer of politics. Plus, the stereotypical image of the boffin grafting through the night on their latest pet project (from choice, of course, can't think of a better way to spend the night) doesn't sit well alongside the glib, authoritative, not entirely accurate double speak of the political candidate, let alone a died-in-the-wool MP.
We are not naturally gregarious, don't have or want the slimy charm of someone whose trade it is to get themselves elected. That being so, most stem folks wouldn't be elected, if if they chose to stand. Mere knowledge and skill are no match for polished bullshit in the eyes of the electorate.
One of the bigger failures of (British) government is that significant people don't stay in post very long - whether that be politicians or civil servants. Ostensibly it's about breadth of experience and promotion, but a cynic might suggest it's designed to allow the great and the good to walk away from their mistakes before they come to public attention.
Consequently, it's pretty pointless teaching them anything related to their present role - they'll have moved on before their expertise is employed. They'd be better off with some critical thinking skills that could in theory be employed anywhere - but if you govern by focus group, any sort of administrative competence is merely going to be a hindrance.
December 2020 (after the start of COVID), the "Institute For Government" recommended that:
• The prime minister and secretaries of state should prioritise developing strong working relationships with their scientific advisers, including through inductions and planning exercises.
• The government should strengthen science capability across the civil service, including by ensuring departmental chief scientific advisers have sufficient clout and resources.
I think this is part of the response -- they are trying to strengthen science capability across the civil service -- but it doesn't address the power or influence of scientific advisors -- it's still the same law/commerce/classics management class, upskilled so that they can do better at ignoring the boffins.
With so many civil servants having studied PPE or PPH or classics, perhaps it's time for the universities to update their syllabuses with some STEM so that the graduates have idea of what it is.
This might actually make these graduates employable outside of the civil service and cause the civil service to actually cast the net a bit wider employ from a broader candidate base.
H'mm - and there's me went to a college with 80% STEM intake, back in 1971. A technical college, you hazard? No, it was our National Memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, aka Churchill College, Cambridge University, England (just to disambiguate, there).
And nowadays, most of those local techs and polys are styled University of xxx anyway.
No, the problem is not the unis, it is the poor kids who understand that media and sports studies offer way better job prospects and well-paid careers - er, no, the problem is not the kids, it is a culture which rewards sports coaches and talking heads waaaay more than the technologists who deliver the magic trainers and the OLED screens.
I can't blame any Reg journalist for this as the UK Gov source material is off the mark on this.
STEM Futures has been around for years and people from many different government departments have been involved. DSIT claiming to be the "... first central government department to join STEM Futures..." can only be true if there are some heavy caveats, maybe about what exactly a "central government department" is or some other weasel words.
And if people hope that this is a route for non-STEM civil servants to get some STEM experience, sorry. The scheme is about those already with STEM skills (usually early career scientists) developing their skills and careers through interchange with industry, academia etc. I had plenty of people out on secondments to industry, ex government labs etc. Usually the hardest job was to hold on to them when they returned. But at least when they left they joined organisations that were still part of the UK's STEM base, so not a bad thing if you look at the big picture.
I read once: "Politics is the success of failures."
Not really seen much disconfirmatory evidence since.
The saw "a little knowledge is dangerous" probably applies doubly in this context.
Maybe restricting cabinet to those with Classics Tripos and whose only ability is to quote, inapplicable passages, from Homer or Virgil in the original greek or latin might, prevent much of ideological meddling that has bedevilled more than one nation.
I know Boris has the Oxford equivalent of the Tripos but only a second so probably got the quotes wrong and then only from Apuleius (asinus aureus :) and Catallus. I don't imagine anyone ever got much sense out of him.
Can't help but feel that the type of people available for a 9 month secondment, might skew towards those from groups wanting to extract money from government.
Even putting aside the cynicism, experts in a field make money from the field - if there's not a conflict, then maybe not the right expert.
Seems a little odd that "employing people with domain expertise and separating from those without" wasn't considered.. seeing as it's how most jobs work.