May 7, 2010 / 2:44 PM / 9 years ago

Scientists bemoan loss of expertise in election

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s scientific community was dismayed Friday at the loss of some its leading advocates in parliamentary elections, and experts said they feared health and science policymaking would suffer as a result.

Evan Harris, former Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon, speaks during a pro-animal experimentation laboratory rally in Oxford February 25, 2006. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

The departure from parliament of Dr Evan Harris, a family doctor and science spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, prompted a string of tributes and immediately sparked an online campaign to get him re-elected.

“We have so few members of parliament who are knowledgeable about science and medicine — losing any is bad, but losing one with Evan’s flair, charm and charisma is a disaster,” said Simon Wessely of the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London.

“Let’s hope there is another general election as soon as possible.”

Gail Cardew, director of programs at the Royal Institution, said it was “a sad day for the science community.”

Conservatives were in pole position to take power Friday after winning the most seats in parliament in a bitterly fought election, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown had not yet signaled a willingness to relinquish power.

Britain’s scientists had taken keen interest in this election and expressed concern about the lack of expertise in a parliament that scrutinizes policies on everything from nanotechnology to abortion to embryonic stem cell research.

In an effort to focus attention on the relative lack of expertise, a tiny, newly formed Science Party put up a single candidate to fight for the seat of Conservative David Tredinnick, who has backed the idea of using astrology and homeopathy in the country’s state-run National Health System.

Tredinnick held the seat, with the Science Party’s candidate Dr Michael Brooks gaining just 0.4 percent of the vote.

A poll by the scientific journal Nature ahead of the election found that of the 3.3 million science and technology graduates in Britain, 80 percent said a candidate’s attitude to science would have an impact on the way they cast their votes.

It also found the Liberal Democrats — who came a long way back in third place in Thursday’s poll — were seen as the most likely party to use science or scientific advice to formulate their policies if they were to win power.

But as the final results trickled in Friday, commentators concluded that science was among the biggest losers.

“This election looks to have had a truly dreadful outcome for science, regardless of which party or parties ultimately go on to form the government,” Mark Henderson, science editor of The Times newspaper, wrote in a blog.

“It has denuded the House of Commons (parliament) of science’s strongest advocates, and significantly eroded its scientific expertise.”

Editing by Steve Addison

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