Recently in Knowledge Economy Category

Water Tap What will be the fundamental 'currencies' of the future? What, if we are serious about global sustainability in all its forms, should these currencies comprise now? It's likely, if we collectively are ever going to achieve a level of long-term viability for the human race, that we will have to shift the emphasis from money (or the gold standard) to the really basic requirements for life on earth - carbon, water and nitrogen, plus knowledge of all sorts to keep the whole show on the road.

Knowledge Economy and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Money is self-evidently important to individuals (how else do you secure the roof over your head and food on the table, in complex modern societies?); and it's one indicator of collective economic well-being.

But it's 'only' a measure or tool. It's not a fundamental requirement in its own right for living.

We can, at least hypothetically, survive without money, but we can't survive without water and - in its many forms - delicately balanced amounts of carbon, and of course nitrogen. In all three instances, it's a case of not too much, not too little.

Back to basics
Water, carbon and nitrogen are the fundamentals of life.

To my mind we shall all need to understand the significance of these fundamentals much better at every level from the local to the global; and when we've grasped this, the next step will be to trade in the universal units - not just as now for some specialist concerns, but as globally recognised everyday currencies.

Climate change and polar ice caps are critically important, but they don't easily interpret into something which the person on the street feels empowered to do much about.

Making it meaningful
The problems and the indicators have to be far closer to home to be meaningful in terms of action for most people. And ideally there needs to be a recognition in the discourse that we're all in this together.

Our neighbours are global as well as local when it comes to the future of the human race on the planet. (The planet itself will of course 'survive'. It's people and other currently living things which are imperilled by human activity in the twenty-first century.)

Convincing currencies
So let's see how we can reconfigure the notion of currency to have wider meaning for survival.

We all share the need for water, carbon and nitrogen, in suitably balanced and sustained ways.

The additional (secondary) critical currency is therefore knowledge; not least knowledge about how to maintain and sustain our planet. This cannot be just scientific and abstract knowledge, but needs to be shared by us all.

And that's before we even begin to consider knowledge and knowing of very many other sorts also as a basic currency of the twenty-first century.

Knowledge and knowing
Knowledge in its formal sense will, in time, become recognised as the major currency of formal activity; and 'knowing' will be the currency in everyday life which keeps us all going.

Knowing is the social glue which can keep communities sustainable and simultaneously open our eyes to new ideas and scenarios. It enables us all together to engage, empower and explore.

Cash won't be king
We can't eat cash. We can run out of formal finance and still somehow survive.

But we need the fundamentals of life, and we also desperately need ways to share our common humanity, and our connections too with other living things. This is where the eco-system meets the communalism which must bind us all together.

No return to mediaeval ways of thinking
The difference between this time around and previous eras where the good earth was the known fundamental, is this:

In the twenty-first century we can create new, non-static way of life which incorporate the very basics of life but also lets us explore the vibrant and exciting challenges of science, humanities (in every sense) and our actual selves.

A more holistic view
The time when carbon and water, if not as yet nitrogen, are recognised universal currencies, measured formally as commodities of exchange, may not be long in coming.

As we understand that knowledge and knowing are the fundamentals of our existence in communities, we will also want to emphasise the basic currencies of life.


Read more articles about the Knowledge Economy and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Science & Music books C.P. Snow introduced the idea of the Two Cultures in the annual Rede Lecture in Cambridge of 7 May 1959. Himself both an eminent scientist and contemporary historian of science, and a novelist, in that lecture he lamented the gulf between scientists and 'literary intellectuals', arguing that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. Now fifty years later (as on the fortieth anniversary) a range of commentators continues to debate this claim.

Science & Technology.

Some of us may feel that the great contribution to British culture of Charles Percy Snow (1905 - 1980) was in fact to write novels and commentaries about science which are still remembered for the light they shed on how science works in modern society.

For me that's certainly true: the dozen novels of the Strangers and Brothers saga (1949 - 1970) and his non-fiction (if not undisputed) accounts of how science 'works' - especially Science and Government (The Godkin Lectures at Harvard University) (1961), The Two Cultures and a Second Look (1963) and The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World (1982, republished 2008) - have helped to bridge that science - humanities chasm.

Focus on the Corridors of Power
These were the books which, as a post-grad student of the sociology of science, opened my eyes to a world I hadn't even previously known existed: the world of high level science and policy, the world as Snow himself styled it, of The Corridors of Power.

But this focus has been largely lost in the debate about the Two Cultures and the heavyweight attack which the literary critic F.R. Leavis (1895 - 1978) made on C.P. Snow's thesis a couple of years after the Rede Lecture, suggesting that Snow was a dreadful novelist and rejecting the validity of his concerns that the literary elite was not scientifically literate.

Not always incompatible
Isn't it interesting in this context that quite a lot of excellent musicians are also good at maths and science; and probably just as many very good scientists are also decent musicians?

There remains as ever a cultural gap between the humanities and 'science', but they are both very complex enterprises, and it does not follow that all those in the arts are unaware of science, any more than the converse must always be true.

The nature of evidence
What is more worrying is that sometimes people don't seem to understand the nature of evidence (not 'science') ... that whenever possible it needs to be good enough to rely on, before conclusions are drawn.

Of course all evidence in the end is relative, but we have to start somewhere.... the important thing in a democratic society, is that the basis on which we as individuals, and those with influence, choose to decide actions and positions is open to scrutiny.

Moving towards rationality
Slowly, modern western society is becoming more rational and moving out of the mists of myth and cultural comfort zones. There is without doubt a limit to how much this can or should happen, but I think we're nearer to a balance on this than we were even a few decades ago. Many scientific terms are commonplace in everyday debate.

When C.P. Snow wrote his Two Cultures lecture we as a society 'knew' less than we do now. It's difficult to accept the claim that education for most people is 'worse' than it was in the 1950s and 60s - and I say that as the product of an inner-city grammar school of that era. Then we just didn't perceive the awfulness of the education which most children received; this was still the post-war era when anything was better than nothing.

For most people, cultural memory is it seems very short. We can surely now, despite all the naysayers, learn more, quickly, about anything, than ever before.

The longer view
It's said that 90% of the scientists who ever lived are here on this planet now. Possibly the same applies to artists, for what it's worth. But what I'm sure of is that C.P. Snow has excited a lot of people - including me - over several decades, with the debate he sparked.

Snow's perspective is of course now dated; but those who currently deny that things have got better have (potentially) the benefit of hindsight ,and they need to think quite carefully about whether they are using that very valuable vantage point properly. More people now know something about science and the arts, than ever before.

You don't need to be able to describe the double helix and the works of great poets in detail to share some mutual understanding about our complex cultural underpinnings.

Evidence and ideas for sustainability
What you do need to be able to do is draw threads together to make sense of where you find yourself in the world... and never has that been more true than now, with the 'one planet living' challenges we all face.

Indeed, Lord Snow argued himself that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Bridging the gap
I'm not therefore sure that the most important debate around education can continue now be an arid discussion of so-called 'standards'; surely it has to be about searching for common understandings? And in that debate C.P. Snow and those who followed have helped a lot.

If the musicians and their counterparts can sometimes bridge the gap, then maybe the rest of us should start to be more positive, and have a go too.


Read more about Science & Technology.

For more commentary on the fiftieth anniversary of the 'Two Cultures' Rede Lecture, see e.g. here and here.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: 'Poster Day is a rainforest of research diversity' The University of Liverpool has one Graduate School for all disciplines. The School's annual Poster Day (27 March, in 2009) enables all these fields to be showcased together. I had the happy task with a few other 'external' judges of selecting the first-ever prizewinner for the new 'North West Hub' award, to emphasise links between academia and the wider world.

Education & Life-Long Learning and Knowledge Economy.

The exemplary aims of Poster Day are to offer graduate students practice in the skills required to communicate to a degree educated public, and to provide an opportunity for them to learn more about research being undertaken in other parts of the University.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: exhibiting in Mountford Hall

The University of Liverpool Graduate School Poster Day exhibition was fascinating; the cross-faculty range of work under one roof would surely have taken months to get fully to grips with, but we had just a couple of hours. I used the time to talk to some very interesting people, all passionate about their work and the reasons they were doing it.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 307 ~ Woolly Welfare? Reliably Counting Lame Sheep

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 270 ~ An Empirical Investigation of the Libyan Audit Market & No. 272 ~ Corporate Governance and Firm Value

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 31 ~ Achaemenid Egypt: 130 years of Mystery

The involvement of 'external' visitors was a new step introduced this year. Here we see some of the Graduate School Team, including Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with my fellow judges:

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with the Graduate School Team & Poster Day external judges (NW Hub)

But in the end we had to make a decision, spoilt for choice though we certainly were.

The general criteria for the North West Hub overall prize included visual impact, organisation of the material, the accessibility of and rationale for the research, and, last but not least, the enthusiasm and clarity of the researcher him or herself. It seems very fitting that the award was after much discussion made to Andrew Lee-Mortimer for his engineering research project around Design for Sustainability.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post- Poster Day: No. 85 ~ Andrew Lee-Mortimer: Design for Sustainability (NW Hub prizewinner)


Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning and about the Knowledge Economy.

Ha'penny coin The Economist magazine has had an online debate on the proposition that 'We're all Keynesians now'. The outcome was not encouraging. By two-to-one that proposition was rejected in favour of a free-market position. Perhaps some economists have yet to learn that the current day physical realities of the context itself keep shifting, and that the science of human behaviour is in the end an art, with outcomes that depend on how we handle the interaction between fact and feeling.

Economics Observed.

In 1936 the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) pointed out that in a downturn the economy is operating below its potential, so expanding demand can create supply, which will in turn give people jobs and more prosperity, thus creating (to quote the view in 2009 of the US economist James Furman) an economic 'virtuous circle'.

That, says Furman (along with many others) is 'the paradox of economics in a downturn. Normally, the only way to grow the economy is the old-fashioned way: delaying gratification through reduced deficits and increased savings to encourage more investment. But in a downturn, these steps would just compound the problem and worsen the vicious circle of rising unemployment, underutilized capacity and falling consumption.'

We can argue the toss about how much economic 'growth' we should pursue in a world which already uses far, far more than it should of environmental resources, but intentionally causing devastating poverty by restricting government and other large-scale spending - the preference of the free-marketeers and monetarists - won't help.

Socio-economic expectations and sustainability
Sustainable futures depend not only on what will in theory happen next, but what's happening now.

There is a cost attached to severe recession: the people whom it hurts on a daily living basis get very upset. And upset people become disenfrachised and disaffected - which is in no-one's interest.

Those of us engaged in regeneration and renewal know only too well, despite the apparent logic of the free market position, that this cannot be the way forward.

The Economist debate
The Economist debate on the theme that 'We're all Keynesians now' is therefore timely; but disappointingly it transpired to be very largely a discussion - or so it seemed - between a cohort of people who work in the financial sector, mostly in the USA.... and who also therefore have huge influence on the lives of us all.

Doing his best for the Keynesians we had Prof. Brad DeLong, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and in the Clinton administration a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Those opposing the Keynesian position were led by Prof. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, co-author of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, acclaimed as "one of the most powerful defenses of the free market ever written", and co-creator of the Financial Trust Index, an indicator of the level of trust Americans have in financial markets. Prof. Zingales' position was to defend the idea of the Free Market.

Money or men and women?
There was little discussion in the Economist debate of people as people, and almost none about the extraordinarily complex issues we now face in our global physical environment.

Money and Monetarism or at least the Free Market (themes favoured by the Chicago School of economics) were the positions which, from my reading of the proceedings, ruled the day.

But when we start to disaggregate socio-economic outcomes and impacts in respect of the diverse downturn experiences of different people (gender, age, physical state, cultural background and other factors) it is very hard - in both the intellectual and the affective sense - not to go for Keynesianism.

Haves and Have Nots
Other, more austere, approaches may seem attractive in the long-run to people who won't in the interim really go without; but surely even they recognise that the legacy of a deeply disenfranchised social hinterland - under-educated and sick children, depressed and impoverished families without focus, and all the rest - will not be an advantage in times to come?

We have to keep people in work as far as possible (preferably eco- and socially sustainable schemes), or we risk more than we may gain. It's how the Keynesian approach is handled that really matters.

Sustainability is no longer a given
Yet most commentators continued to debate as though everything 'except' the economy will stay the same. It won't; and the versatility of neo-Keynesianism surely helps us here more than the strictures of the Chicago School .

Gas /oil, carbon, water... one or more of these will become the major financial 'currency/ies' of the future; and my guess is that the new gold-standard currency will soon be simply knowledge.

If economics can't take account of these factors in meaningful, rather than soul-less, ways, we're in for a rougher ride even than needs be already.

Keynes was creative
Nor did I see much about John Maynard Keynes the person in this debate.

Wasn't Keynes a man with a wide range of interests, a member of the Bloomsbury Group (that intellectual and progressive force in the London of the 1930s), married to the 'Bloomsbury Ballerina' Lydia Lopokova, a talented Russian ballet dancer?

Wouldn't Keynes have been worried to read about the sterile dehumanised theoretical models which continue to be proposed by the Monetarists and Free Marketeers? What if anything, he might have asked, has been learnt in the past eighty years?

Imagination in the face of multiple challenges
Only Keynesian-style approaches accommodate the changing realities of life across the globe for millions upon millions of different people (men and women in many diverse cultures, all cruelly hit by the credit crunch) who simply can't live without jobs of some sort, because they have no resource other than their daily labour.

Surely Keynes would have urged us to use imagination as well as mathematical models, to try to resolve the dilemmas we now face.

How can we cope, all at the same time, with economic crises, climate change, famine and much else, unless we seek the application of intentionally humane and decent economic frameworks?

Decision-makers and destinies
It's worrying that so few of the Economist's debaters looked outside their models to the contexts in which we actually live. They are after all also generally the people in the private sector (and in right wing governments) who decide what to do with 'their' economies.

The Free Market folk undoubtedly believe they have incorporated human motivation and behaviours into their models. The problem seems to be that - the behaviour perhaps of economists themselves apart? - rationality has little to do with behaviour in reality; and in any case the language of the Chicago School does belies an understanding of the human condition for 'ordinary' people.

Perhaps - could it have been said before? - such people simply don't count in the face of the Free Market?

Humanity and economics are inseparable
Recent experience in developing sustainable communities has seen those in regeneration forced to understand it's not just logic which influences how people behave; we ignore their humanity and need for stakeholding and inclusion at our peril.

The same applies in the face of terrifying outcomes if we get the economics wrong. A lot more insight into the day to day realities of the human condition is required.


Read more articles about Economics Observed.

Precision instruments Research Forum has this week, 5 November 2008, carried an analysis (including an article by me) of A Vision for Science and Society, which DIUS, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills launched on 18 July and concluded on 17 October. The debate is by no means over. This is a conversation which has as yet a way to run.

The article which follows is a version of my contribution to that debate, exploring the view that science in the service of civil society needs to find ways to engage more openly with those whom it seeks to serve.


What's science for?
The social sciences don’t get much of a profile in A Vision for Science and Society, the document that launched the three-month consultation organised by the DIUS, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills that closed earlier this month. So perhaps I, as someone at the ‘social’ end of science, am bound to see this documentation differently from some of my colleagues and fellow contributors to the debate from the natural and physical sciences.

Nonetheless, this debate is a big step towards an answer to what in my view is a central question in complex contemporary society: “What is science for and what should it do?

Science in the 21st Century
I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Sir Gareth Roberts Science Policy Lecture at the Science Council in November last year when Ian Pearson, then Minister of State for Science and Innovation, initiated the current discussion. He asked us to consider how to nurture a “more mature relationship between science, policy and society” for the 21st century.

Subsequently, when the consultation was launched in July, DIUS re-iterated the vision: “The government is committed to creating a society that is excited about science and values its importance to our social and economic well-being; feels confident in its use; and supports a representative, well-qualified workforce. This vision encapsulates our long-term ambitions and we believe it directly addresses the science and society challenges facing us today.”

The Big Question
All excellent stuff, though I recognise it’s not a universally popular perspective. The seekers-after-truth may sometimes feel it diminishes or side steps their endeavours; but all scientists seek veracity, and, within that, the subset comprising research scientists also all seek new truths. The Big Question is:

Which of these many truth objectives should the state and other collaborating parties encourage and finance, and why?

The DIUS consultation goes some long way to securing answers to this question, but not perhaps quite far enough. However, let’s consider the positives first.

There is a fundamental underpinning in the DIUS discussion of the ways in which science must address the global challenge imperatives—climate change, security, population, resources and disease—and on how the rest of civil society (all of us) must engage in this, too.

Addressing the imperatives
There is also much discussion about how to focus science translationally in our economy, towards the delivery of real enterprise and products arising from scientific research....

This makes the department’s failure to acknowledge the potential value of regional science policy in the regeneration of economically depressed areas all the more bizarre.

But the evidence of DIUS’s earnest intention to encourage more, and more diverse, people to become scientists is perhaps a fuzzy first step towards developing some sensible regional science and knowledge economy policies.

From the inside looking out
And yet…and yet… Somehow, the debate feels as though it is being conducted from the inside, looking out.

There is, it might be felt, an implicit assumption that if only everyone understood science better, even half as well as the scientists, things would be fine and we could all just get on with it.

Much as I wish this might be true, there is a part of me that doubts it.

Strategic fit
The consultation documents and the questions DIUS posed to aid discussion did a thoroughly decent job of exploring ways to achieve a better strategic fit of people, business, services, science and technology at the national, if not at the regional, level. But they do not explore why, conversely, science just does not seem to ‘fit’ everyone in our complex and diverse society.

Many of us, according to the surveys that informed the DIUS discussion, maintain that science is ‘exciting’. However, far fewer people are actually up for it when career options are floated or other aspects of informed involvement are tested.

Forms of knowledge
Science is the ultimate in human rationality (though, even then, less rational than proponents may choose to believe). But consistently rational, many of us simply are not.

Even among those well qualified in science, there are some for whom it is no more than a technical adjunct to their personal overarching beliefs and way of life.

Science is just one form of knowledge among many. What distinguishes it is its startling capacity to provoke and direct change. In this, we all, every one of us, have a stake. Science underpins our lives and we often pay for it through our taxes.

Science for the people
Looked at in this light, perhaps scientists employed or funded by civil society (‘government’) have an additional responsibility, beyond that of their usual professional obligation to seek transparency and veracity in their work.
This additional responsibility is to ensure that publicly funded science is both relevant to, and good value for, the investment civil society has made in it—just as private employers expect the same for their investments.

But where is the focus in DIUS’s debate about the particular roles and responsibilities of the scientists themselves, when they conduct ‘science for the people’?

Multi-disciplinary teamwork
Publicly funded science must be responsive and iterative; it must offer ways forward for implementation in real communities of real people.

I don’t, however, see much in the DIUS debate about how science programme managers (and, ideally, all others involved) are to be equipped to deliver this. At the very least, it requires integrated truly multi-disciplinary teamwork between scientists, policy makers and wider stakeholders at every stage, from concept to delivery.

Public scrutiny and quality assurance
And here, too, is a meaningful role for government science advisory councils, offering quality assurance and public scrutiny through independent expert opinion on which science government should support, and why.

Yet the value of these bodies—let alone how to strengthen and learn from them—is not considered in the DIUS debate.

In private industry, company boards appraise their scientific investments. Civil society must do the same for public investment, transparently.

Science as human agency
Which takes me back to the central issue.

We can’t expect everyone to be enthused about a science that appears granite-like before them. If we want true public engagement, science has to emphasise, not deny, its human agency.

Science is about risk, uncertainty and adventure, and the way real human beings cope with and grow through these challenges.

As we all know in our heads if not our hearts, it is not just about serious-looking chaps in white coats, whom the bravest of other sorts of people may join in the search for knowledge.

A compelling human story
Scientists have a very human story to tell, of choices and priorities, crossroads, blind alleys and huge successes.

If we want everyone to believe science is ‘for them’, this story must be told openly, explicitly and contemporaneously, warts and all, by those who are actually doing it.

Then science will seem genuinely relevant and accessible, a humanly shaped, ever-evolving and fundamental part of modern life. That is how things really are, from the outside looking in.

Is DIUS game for this? The debate has yet to begin.

A version of this paper was first published in Research Fortnight, 5 November 2008, pp. 17-18. Hilary Burrage has experience as a member of a science advisory council, but writes here in a purely personal capacity. Her submission to the consultation on DIUS's A Vision for Science and Society, is available here.


Read more about Science & Politics and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures & Talks

www.scienceandpolitics.co.uk

08.09.27  NWDA AGM 2008 John Willman  Liverpool BT Conference Centre John Willman is UK Business Editor of the Financial Times, so his take on the UK economy was an important contribution to the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference in Liverpool. His message, whilst analytically cautious in the present market chaos, came over as generally upbeat. Would that Tim Leunig, the academic who advised the economic emphasis should Go South, had seen things in the same light. Better surely for the North and the South of England, if we face the UK's regional (and centralist) challenges, than if we run away?

The headline message from John Willman's talk came over to me as: Tim Leunig is mistaken. And the UK economy is fundamentally strong.

Leunig’s recent staggering judgement (in the report Cities Unlimited, by the free market leaning independent think tank Policy Exchange) that in general developers should abandon the North of England for the delights of the Golden Triangle - he suggests more development around Oxbridge, which will supposedly realign the North-South markets - in my view takes some beating for silliness. John Willman appeared to be of a similar mind.

The great Victorian cities
Far from suggesting, as Leunig seems to, that Greater London should become even more overheated, Willman made the case that the ‘great Victorian cities’ are the best equipped for the new ‘global living’. There is, he said, a Kit: some combination of conference centres, art galleries, a four-star hotel, some culture and festivals, and maybe a port.

In these respects the major English cities of the North (of the Core Cities, only Bristol is South) have the edge on continental European cities such as Bordeaux and Porto. They’re also great and fascinating cities (as I too can attest), but they’re probably 15 years behind their parallels in Britain: Their docksides have yet to be developed for the new leisure economies, for instance.

North-South divide: London ‘vs’ the rest
The debate about the North-South divide, Willman told us, is sterile. It’s useless to ‘blame’ London. The UK capital is a truly global city; in this, the North can never expect or even hope to compete. It’s just not a realistic objective to close the gap.

And London, with the mayoral model which elected mayor Ken Livingstone provided, showed how a ‘get things done’ city can operate.

The national and global economy
Despite the panic, only 3% of UK mortgages are in default. Willman judged that Britain is still doing pretty well as the sixth largest manufacturer in the world, a supplier of very high quality products.

In these respects the UK economy is well placed for the globalised world; as is North West England, with its emphasis on the service economies, life sciences, media and creative products and the current / forthcoming energy industries (including nuclear energy) .

The Wimbledon effect
The UK is an open economy, which in some senses punches above its weight. Britain demonstrates the ‘Wimbledon effect': we don’t necessarily take the headlines, but we do host the event.

In fact, the consultants Saffron Brand recently reported that perhaps the UK sells its story ‘too well’ – some of our cities are actually more highly rated than cold analysis suggests they might be.

A strong basic economy
Willman’s overall judgement at the NWDA 2008 Annual Conference was that UK economy is ‘so much stronger than 30 years ago’.

Perhaps some of us continue to see the elephant in the room - climate change and environmental sustainability - as an critically important challenge, still to be adequately (and very urgently) addressed.

Whatever... Would that Tim Leunig and others like him were as willing as Willman, on the basis of the evidence over many decades, to recognise that people everywhere have to believe in themselves to make their economies work effectively at all.


Read more about Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions
and about Economics Observed.

Science Laboratory with computers Are the Natural and Physical Sciences squaring up for inter-disciplinary combat? Each requires huge sums of money to maintain research momentum, but who decides what research offers best value? How can we measure Particle Physics 'against' say, environmental technologies? With their vast 'pure research' budgets to secure, perhaps the Physicists will now also discover that evaluating research investment regenerational impacts supports their case.

The rumblings of dissent between the physical and natural scientists are getting louder. There is a view abroad that investment in areas like Particle and Theoretical Physics is too expensive, when we need urgently to develop sustainable, 'One Planet Living' technologies.

Applied or fundamental research?
Today's Guardian newspaper (6 September '08) has an article about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - a facility (apparatus or laboratory) in Geneva which will cost £5bn over the next 20 years - which adds substance to these rumblings. Prof. Sir David King, previously the UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, argues that 'big' money for scientific research is best spent encouraging top scientists to address climate change and related environmental issues; Britain has so far contributed about £500m to the LHC.

The Physicists however argue that thus far we know about only 5% of what constitutes the universe; we cannot stop exploration of the fundamental nature of matter.

Valid views
Both perspectives are valid. But which will hold sway?

The environmental research argument is compelling to people who know little about science, as well as many (often including natural scientists who feel short of funding) who do. The fundamental, 'science for the sake of knowledge' position is also persuasive, but perhaps only really to those who already perceive the deep intellectual challenges of exploring the nature of matter.

Political decisions
It was probably alright to leave science decisions to the scientists a century ago, when the Haldane Principle decreed that political involvement in research decisions was unacceptable. But things have changed, and science is now infinitely more expensive than it was then.

How, on behalf of UK plc, should the Government allocate its cash? Decisions on specific scientific programmes are still made by the Research Councils; but overall allocations are decided by the politicians.

The socio-economic case
Some while ago, practitioners in the Arts and Culture began to espouse the 'socially useful' position: what they do should be supported because it helps community development and regeneration generically, and makes jobs.

My expectation is that, finally, the physical scientists may catch on to the same notion.

Currently, there is little of any discussion about how investment in Big Science - the large research facility programmes - impacts on the locations in which it is placed. In the future this may change.

Jobs and infrastructure
Some 10,000 scientists are employed by (and were attracted to work in) the LHC; and that's before we get to the armies of scribes and other support staff required for such a programme. This, inevitably, must have a huge impact on the various economies in which LHC is embedded.

Scientists until now have held the idea that 'value-added' - the additional socio-economic regenerational (as opposed to simply business) impact of research investment, over and above its scientific value as such - is irrelevant to their decisions about which proposals to support. Research funds may be from the public purse, but regenerational impact, we are told, is irrelevant to decisions about where programmes are located.

Shifting criteria
This high-minded dismissal of non-science-related socio-economic impact, I predict, is about to come to an end. Many technologists and natural scientists, like their more arty colleagues, now make compelling cases for how useful their work will be to society, within quite short time spans.

This is the only way practitioners in the more abstract and fundamental physical sciences can go, in terms of short-term impact. They will have to begin, however reluctantly, to acknowledge the legitimacy of questions about the ways their huge budgets can, alongside unravelling the mysteries of the universe, provide improvements to local economies, infrastructures and regional regenerational prospects.

You read it here first.


Read also:
Science, Regeneration & Sustainability

From Regeneration To Sustainability: A Northern Take On Knowledge

08.07.29 Hilary Burrage NUREC Conference keynote lecture  Liverpool BT Convention Centre This is a version of the Keynote Lecture I gave at the NUREC 2008 conference, in Liverpool on 28 July 08. In it we explore the connections between Knowledge Economies and Ecologies, and Big Science and Regeneration, especially in regional and sub-regional settings, and in respect of issues around Sustainability. My basic thesis is that Knowledge is not yet recognised for the fundamental resource it surely is.

I’d like to begin with some thoughts on what Urban Regeneration in ‘the North’ might be about.

I shall assume two things in doing this:
* first, that we are orientated towards a positive and stable future, and
* second, that ‘the North’ means, from beyond Birmingham up to Stornoway, and all parts East and West between.

Regional regeneration
I know more about regeneration in the North of England than I do about that in Scotland, or indeed Wales or Ulster, but I hope it’s useful to acknowledge that we are all in this together.

I hope too that you will forgive me if I refer from now on to ‘Northern Britain’, as a shorthand for all these locations.

So...

There is ‘the South’, that Golden Triangle of perceived opportunity between London, Oxbridge and Bristol. And then there are, at least in some respects, The Rest Of Us: the periphery, perhaps including the far South West of England, and certainly comprising all of us ‘up North’.

Knowledge and sub-national agendas
My specific theme today is Knowledge, how it infuses complex contemporary society, and how it relates to U.K. sub-national agendas in Regeneration.

To use the emerging terminology, we are about to take a look at the KNOWLEDGE ECOLOGY of Northern Britain.

The idea of ‘Knowledge Ecologies’ allows a wider appreciation of the interrelationships of various factors which affect and influence Knowledge in its various contexts, be they economic, social or environmental.

What is Knowledge?
For our purposes I’d suggest ‘Knowledge’ is a pragmatic notion with a number of different aspects, which can be likened to some of the different states in which we encounter water:

* Social understandings and culture are like the mist or dew which maintains all living things.

* Civic and community rules are like rain, which falls whether we want it to or not.

* Our formal education can be compared to the streams and rivers which criss-cross our terrain, sometimes preventing us from travelling and sometimes moving us along.

* Expertise is a lake in which we can immerse ourselves, or indeed where we can go fishing, if we are well-placed to do so.

* And research tools and methods are to knowledge what a hydro-electric dam is to water at the end of a reservoir, not without risk, but hopefully unleashing its power to good use.

Knowledge can be wasted.
Knowledge, like water, can be wasted when
* the commodity is not perceived to be a resource, or of value
* it is not used properly
* it is allowed to stagnate, or not maintained in a good condition
* nit is not conserved
* it is allowed to go its own way or run its own course.

And we do also sometimes hit ‘unintended negatives’ – so-called ‘beaver dams’ – which are blocks to the flow of knowledge but intended by those who created them actually to assist constructive development.

One example might be the rules around Objective 1 funding, which is blocked to enterprises physically outside the Objective 1 area, such as Science and Technology Parks just outside Merseyside.

I hope by now you are beginning to see where the parallel between water and Knowledge lies.....

Knowledge centres move over time
The question is how can we, as Regeneration practitioners, use Knowledge, in the same way as conservationists would use water?

It’s interesting to recall that the Industrial Revolution, that precursor of the Knowledge Economy, began in the North.

But we are all aware that somehow things slipped Southwards thereafter, to the magical land of the M4 / M5 corridor, otherwise known as the Golden Triangle.

In more recent times this Southward flow of wealth-making has been accompanied by

* the globalisation of markets and products, by-passing almost every geographical and political boundary;

* very easily accessed information and networks, via the internet; and

* intensification of activity in fields related to information and other technologies, often to the exclusion of other more traditional industries and economies.

Fundamental changes in the Ecology of Knowledge have brought about big shifts in our experience in every aspect of our lives, whether social, economic or environmental.

Knowledge in Regeneration
In what ways do Knowledge, Regeneration and Sustainability interface and how can we best gear each into the other? How should we approach them in the new climate of devolved decision-making?

At first it might seem silly to consider the whole Knowledge Economy or Ecology in terms of Local Area Agreements and the like; after all, modern Knowledge investments are a very expensive and large-scale enterprise.

But attention to Knowledge at every level presents an opportunity to get things right in a way that the broad sweep alone cannot.

Conserving Knowledge
To extend our analogy, we are learning fast that conservation of water, like that of energy, has to be a collective effort.

And so too does the ‘conservation’ of Knowledge.

If we want to keep and get the best out of Knowledge in Northern Britain, we need to make sure we look after and invest in it just as our Southern cousins do.

Finding the right criteria
So where might we start? Perhaps by looking for good criteria by which to evaluate proposals for Regeneration....?

These criteria need to be transparent, meaningful and coherent for everyone concerned - be they planners, politicians, policy makers or indeed the general public and those most directly concerned in ‘communities’.

I do not however believe that currently this happens with any frequency.

If it does happen, why is the cry from stakeholders – whether community activists, service providers, businesses or others - so often for ‘more consultation’?

In terms of major misunderstandings, criteria tend to be more contested, the further we move away from the location of national government - especially when it comes to things such as large-scale investment in Knowledge.

The Golden Triangle
In this respect the Big Science Golden Triangle is significantly advantaged.

To return to our global economy model, the Golden Triangle is close to the corridors of power, it is hugely resourced in both financial and human terms, it has all the right infrastructure and it is well focused on delivery.

There are some outstanding Knowledge centres in the North, not least in the Daresbury Laboratory collaborations, in the Science Cities of Newcastle and Manchester, and in the Edinburgh – St Andrews nexus.

World-class excellence in specific disciplines
Even more locally, we can point to the world-class excellence of work done in ous Diseases.

The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine can stand proud against institutions anywhere in its achievements in this field, and there are alongside the work of the School hugely significant Biomedical developments, both at the University of Liverpool itself and at Speke Liverpool industrial locations near Runcorn.

Knowledge 'pools' have big potential
The potential for Merseyside’s economy of these connections - as also of the clustering of skills and facilities in aspects of Information Technology - are enormous, if they can indeed be brought together not just as a pool or pond, but as a river flowing purposively from the tributaries of its component parts to serve a stronger socio-economic ecology.

And similarly we can point to many other Knowledge ‘ponds’ in Northern Britain, bringing together very high skills in professional services such as Law and Accountancy; cultural provision such as Music, Theatre and Museums; or public services such as Health.

Socio-economic contexts
But to be blunt, these facilities sometimes lack the wider socio-economic cogency and contextual enhancement of comparable facilities further South.

We have seen the emergence of the ‘Northern Way', an admirable development which seeks to focus the synergies of all our Knowledge and related assets; but these still do not always ‘flow’ to our benefit as they might.

Yes of course there are pockets of disadvantage ‘down South’. But we only have to look at basic measures such as a life expectancy and health to know that overall the Southern half of Britain fares better than the Northern half.

It would be downright wrong to suggest, as some do, that Northern Britain has no Knowledge facilities which stand up against those of the Golden Triangle.

Knowledge contexts and economic outputs
But it would be equally foolish to suggest that all Northern Knowledge centres have the same supportive hinterland as most Southern ones.

Northern Knowledge facilities do not always lever in the economic outputs and other advantages of some Southern facilities of equivalent standing.

The reality is, until all of us are clear about the range of required criteria – not only academic criteria, but also many other sorts - for deciding where and when to invest in Knowledge, we will not have a proper conversation; and opportunities in a range of locations and situations will then be lost.

Knowledge as 'Science', and otherwise
But before we go any further, I should make one thing clear: Whilst I would like to be able to discuss the management and nurturing of Knowledge in the UK, we will inevitably find that we need to consider more narrowly defined sorts of Knowledge such as ‘Science’, or ‘Arts and Culture’, or ‘Education’.

‘Knowledge’ and ‘knowing’ as such do not seem to feature in the policy debate at any level. Nonetheless, I hope you will accept that ideally I would encompass all sorts of Knowledge in my analogy with water; as indeed I would urge you as Regeneration practitioners to think of Knowledge in this broader sense. But we must work with what we have, and the nearest to that for Knowledge as we intend to use the term is ‘Science’.

We have 'Science' funding councils, which have much larger budgets than funding councils for any other sorts of discipline. But we do not have a 'Knowledge' funding council. And so, for much of the rest of our discussion, we shall needs be use the terms ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Science’ almost interchangeably.

Big Science in North West England
So let’s take one topical example, which is Scientists and Big Science facilities in the North West England.

There are in Merseyside perhaps just half the number of scientists and technologists one might expect pro-rata from the UK general demographic. It is hard not to see a connection between this low concentration of high skills in Science, and the alarmingly modest school-leaving results in this City.

Merseyside is a sub-region where outcomes in terms of a low skills economy and its clusters of industry-based technologies are vulnerable to the operational decisions of powerful corporate Boards, often located in entirely different parts of the world.

The New Light Source synchrotron
And Liverpool is also a City within a Region which is still fighting, a decade after the battles started, to keep the world-leading Fourth Generation Light Source (4GLS) at the Daresbury Laboratory, between Manchester and Liverpool.

The proposal is that this spectacular New Light Source will be designed using an energy recovery linear accelerator to yield very short pulses (around a ten million millionth of a second), so that it will 'freeze' the motion of molecular vibrations and other microscopic scale processes. It will also combine light beams of different wavelengths (energies) which will put it at the leading edge internationally.

But now the Light Source synchrotron may not be built at Daresbury.

We can, we are told, have a jolly good Science Park there. Indeed, we have even been given special Innovation Centre status to take forward the ‘spin-offs’ from our excellent higher education facilities, as well as an important £8.5 million project for something called EMMA (Electron Machine with Many Applications), a development which will ultimately have applications in e.g. cancer therapy.

EMMA will be connected to, and use, ALICE (Accelerators and Lasers in Combined Experiments) designed as a prototype for 4GLS. ALICE is located at Daresbury but has only just been funded for future operations.

A Science Park, not a Synchrotron?
But it has been emphasised that we should not automatically expect to keep 4GLS, one of the most significant Big Science programmes imaginable, in the North West of England - even though scientists at Liverpool and neighbouring Universities devised it.

Indeed, 4GLS has now been renamed the New Light Source (NLS), and the histories around its genesis have been revisited by what some regard as ambitious and perhaps hostile external forces.

The £8m+ for EMMA is obviously a good thing, but this should be seen in the context of the £200 million for other major scientific facilities elsewhere in the UK.

The truth is, there are very influential people elsewhere who want to develop this incredibly important work in fundamental Physics; and some of them don’t really want to do this in the North West. Their preference, as you may have surmised, is the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), located in the Golden Triangle.

Investment and brain drains
In the meantime Daresbury has suffered a ‘brain drain’ of top scientists leaving not only the Daresbury Laboratory itself, but also vacating their academic positions in Daresbury’s partner Universities in the North West of England.

It is therefore excellent news that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has just a few days ago announced a £50m funding boost for Daresbury Science & Innovation Campus. The cash has been earmarked from its Large Facilities Capital Fund to create the Hartree Institute of Computational Science at Daresbury.

But this still leaves a question mark over the future location of the New Light Source and the world-class scientists who work on it. And similar considerations also of course applied to the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s threatened financial reductions at Jodrell Bank, which is closely connected with the University of Manchester, until a ‘reprieve’ just very recently.

The best people often feel obliged to go elsewhere when the research dries up.

Support for Russell Group universities
When this sort of talent haemorrhage occurs, it makes for even greater challenge in maintaining the very high reputational stock of Russell Group universities in the North West.

The Russell Group, comprising twenty of the UK’s top research universities, boasts that in 2006/07, Russell Group Universities accounted for 66% (over £2.2 billion) of UK Universities' research grant and contract income, 68% of total Research Council income, 56% of all doctorates awarded in the United Kingdom, and over 30% of all students studying in the United Kingdom from outside the EU.

So nurturing Russell Group universities in Northern Britain is surely one of the most essential and obvious ways to maintain and extend the reservoir of knowledge and skills in this region.

Big Science 'added value' neglected
But the criteria for where to locate the main programme for the New Light Source - or indeed any other Big Science programme anywhere in the UK - are sadly lacking in respect of the ‘added value’ of wider impact, whichever regional economy becomes the host location.

There has been endless debate about the ‘quality of the science’ - an obvious essential - but, lamentably, almost none on the wider sub-national impacts for the regions concerned.

Much of the funding is put up by the Government, which might reasonably expect a good return across a range of benefits and indices both scientific and much wider.

But the funding allocators don’t worry that scientists might have to ‘go South’ if they wanted to follow this exciting Light Source work.

Regional inaction
And it must also be said that initially far too few policy makers in the North of England actually understood the fundamental significance of this ground-breaking work.

A couple of years ago Rachel Lomax, then a Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, reminded us all, at a conference in Liverpool, that you ‘can’t laugh your way out of economic decline’.

I’d add that perceiving the possible loss of the New Light Source as principally a blow to ‘civic pride’ won’t get us very far either.

Such a view, still occasionally perpetrated by local media, does not help people in our region to understand the significance of this fundamental research. It also suggests to external observers that our local Knowledge Ecology is weak, and we haven’t much idea about how substantive Knowledge Economies actually work.

Big Science benefits its locations
Rather, we need to say, very loud and clear, that there would be huge benefits, quite possibly to the whole of Northern Britain, in developing the New Light Source at Daresbury.

To summarise so far: Northern Britain has some excellent pools of Knowledge, but not, to date, a great reservoir of supportive cultural understandings and high skills, from which we can really empower Northern people and position our region to advantage.

It’s being hard-headed, looking for common understandings between all parties, local, regional and national, which will make a difference in the end. That is why established and shared criteria for Regeneration proposals are so very important.

Who decides?
As Regeneration practitioners, we need to think about regional Big Science and Knowledge investment.

We do not invite only Transport specialists to have a view on the location of main road and rail routes; nor doctors alone to choose where to put internationally recognised Medical facilities.

Likewise, the location of Big Science facilities is, in the most positive of senses, too important to be left only to the Scientists.

We must now ask, quite urgently, how those of us in Regeneration should be thinking about the management of investment in Science, as a massively important influence on the ebb and flow of Knowledge Ecologies.

Knowledge as an orientation to the world
We need to think of Knowledge, not as a set of academic disciplines, activities, ideas or skills, but rather as an orientation towards the world. It is, to extend my analogy, the watertable on which our society is based, the underpinnings of what we believe, perceive and do.

Informal Knowledge or ‘Knowing’ is the taken-for-granted culture which we all share – the dew, mist or rain which keeps us socially alive and operational whether we recognise it or not. But climates can change, so we will need in future to be more aware of these often ‘invisible’ life-support systems. We need always to be orientated even in our taken-for-granted culture towards seeking to find out more and understand what’s happening around us.

Formal Knowledge, on the other hand, is a more direct driver of modern economies. It includes almost everything ‘High Skills’ – whether these skills are scientific, technical, professional, academic, entrepreneurial, artistic, strategic or whatever. Formal knowledge comprises the streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs of our endeavours.

Who makes Knowledge decisions?
So at a very early stage in any Regeneration proposal we need to find out where these Knowledge resources are, and begin to decide what we can – or should – do with them.

And we must also ask who decides how Knowledge is handled.

Many contemporary Knowledge issues can be determined only at a macro- scale.

Yet the policies and actions which culminate in such Knowledge decisions are often made with no such considerations in mind, by people at a relatively local level.

For example, many matters around transport and infrastructure, education, housing and other services are determined at the micro- level, and against criteria relating mainly to quite short-term local electoral accountability.

Big decisions and Big Science
But decisions about Big Science or other large-scale investment in Knowledge of whatever sort, are often made by people and organisations with little or no local accountability, and according to criteria which have nothing to do with local people’s direct concerns.

Only in places where Knowledge – or at least its outcomes – are intrinsically valued, is there likely to be congruence between local decision-making and the consequences of this at strategic levels for Knowledge. Context in these matters is critical. Hence once again my emphasis on widely shared and comprehensive criteria.

So let’s also look at things the other way.

Talking to the right people
Trying to persuade investors in another country that they should do business in a given region can be difficult, especially when the plants and professional skills may be more cheaply available elsewhere.

This is one of the reasons I have doubts about the single-minded pursuit of clustering industries in Technology Parks as an end in themselves.

Things look different however, if we seek to attract expertise at the international cutting edge of scientific Knowledge, rather than simply seeking investment capital.

Technology Parks or Big Science?
It may be more effective to talk with a handful of very top experts who might be persuaded to stay and work in a regional location, provided they have the laboratories and other back-up they require.

If we just concentrate on building the real estate for technology parks we will get a qualitatively different regeneration outcome, from if we push the boat out on globally cutting-edge scientific research.

Regeneration practitioners, please take note.

Combining approaches
Ideally, of course, we should put the technology and the pursuits of high-level scientific research together. And indeed this has to some extent happened in regard to the Merseyside identification with work on Infectious Diseases.

We have the world-class Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and the Teaching Hospitals, in conjunction with the Bioscience facilities of the University of Liverpool. These facilities, as we have noted, are working in tandem with the Biotechnology cluster for vaccines and so forth in Speke, on the city outskirts.

Here is real and potential synergy indeed. I hope someone is conducting the case study!

Knowledge Ecologies and their potential
Ultimately, it is Knowledge Ecologies, the contexts in which Knowledge activities occur, which determine how much benefit may be derived from the resources available – and I’m sure by now I don’t have to extend this, as an analogy, to the management of water, to make my point.

Understanding Knowledge Ecologies, and valuing Knowledge, produces a virtuous circle.

Decision makers at every level must be geared in to ‘looking after’ Knowledge, before everyone can benefit fully from what it can deliver.The physical detail of Regeneration programmes must marry with the human requirements of the people the programmes are intended to serve.

Knowledge centres in their communities
Recognising the role of schools, colleges and universities in their communities, and ensuring they are integrated into their localities – as well as outward-looking – is an essential element of this.

And what, for instance, is or could be the full impact of a teaching hospital or any other facility which employs and / or engages many ‘ordinary’ people, in a very extraordinary and high skills setting?

Or how should we value a cultural initiative such as the renewal of Hope Street, in Liverpool? Hope Street Quarter is home to this city’s international orchestra, several of its theatres, its two cathedrals, and much else, including more recently the joint Universities’ Science Park headquarters. The refurbishment of Hope Street has quite literally brought together the aspirations of flagship Knowledge-led educational and cultural organisations, significant independent businesses and local people in communities across the spectrum from university residences to the more challenging parts of Toxteth, our nearest neighbouring area.

As Chair of HOPES, the charity which spear-headed Hope Street’s renewal over several years, I can vouch for the difficulties – and also the huge benefits – of trying to bring all these perspectives together.

Checking the human realities of Knowledge Ecologies
Whether we are looking at the siting of a Children’s Centre – not, please, in the middle of an uninhabited industrial estate, just because the local authority has a nice spare building there – or, indeed, at the location of an international centre of excellence for Big Science – maybe a decent air link away from the Golden Triangle might be a good idea? – the question has to be:
Will this development serve its purpose in the most humanly effective way?

Attention to Knowledge Ecologies at whatever level, from early years learning right through to the operation of the most complex scientific research, reminds us of something which is quite obvious but sometimes put aside...... The economics of land acquisition and construction or physical development are only one of a large number of factors which Regeneration practitioners must address when taking programmes forward.

If we want the best from Regeneration programmes we need to be joined up.

The USP of Regeneration
It is the full acknowledgement of physical and socio-economic integration and cohesion, as a basic underlying principle, which distinguishes Regeneration from simply construction, community engagement, economic development or planning. This is what makes Knowledge in all its senses so critical in Regeneration.

Our Unique Selling Point as Regeneration practitioners is that we seek to bring together all the skills and understandings of the various disciplines and endeavours which underpin our work. Not every construction, community, developmental or planning scheme comprises Regeneration.

Full Regeneration programmes include all these elements, plus that special ‘extra’ of ensuring that all the Knowledge streams, formal and informal, will, ultimately, flow together for the common good.

Delivering synergies
Bringing all these elements together is however a tall order.

This ‘gearing in’ or re-alignment is not however something with only top-end outcomes. Appropriate understandings and management of Knowledge by every one of us, across the board, would help us as Regeneration practitioners to address all sorts of issues.

We must deliver the potential synergies in the conjunction of these themes. One of the most fascinating things about Knowledge and Regeneration is that what we know develops iteratively – the layers on the onion keep growing, as we share experiences and thereby understand more.

Looking at Knowledge Ecologies
We might consider three questions which arise from these thoughts about Knowledge.

1. Do we in fact share common understandings about the fundamentals of how Knowledge and Science interface with Regeneration?

Would we agree that common criteria and measures for the evaluation and understanding of Knowledge are now emerging? And what, if so, might these be?

2. Do we as Regeneration practitioners need a special take on ‘regional’ or sub-national Knowledge strategies?

Should those who determine science policy now as a matter of good practice assess likely socio-economic impacts – the ‘added value’ - when the Government invests in Science and Knowledge at sub-national levels?

In 2001 I was amongst those who worked towards the inaugural NW Science Conference, which resulted in the first regional Science Council. Should we collectively now to take this initiative a further step forward, and incorporate the Regeneration agenda directly into national Knowledge and Science strategies?

The Haldane Principle, established in 1918, prescribed that Government should not influence how Science is developed, this being the job of the Research Funding Councils alone. But things were very different 90 years ago. Science was a much less complicated activity, the costs of scientific research were proportionately less significant, and certainly nobody thought about connections between investment in Science and investment in what we have come to call Regeneration.

So should the Government now revisit Haldane? Should those who determine science policy now as a matter of good practice assess likely socio-economic impacts – the ‘added value’ - when the Government invests in Science and Knowledge at sub-national levels?

And should we in Regeneration also be developing tools for the same purpose?

3. How can we confront the idea of ‘Sustainability’ – a term which is often dismissed simply I suspect because it is so difficult to ‘unpack’?

To return to the original metaphor, it is not enough that we know where the canals, tributaries, rivers, lakes and hydro-power dams are.

Stable and sustainable systems
We need also to ensure that we have a stable system, one which depends on just a single planet’s-worth of resources.

In this scenario issues such as equality and diversity, or for example the urban-rural divide, take on a new significance. One Planet Living means having an adequate sufficiency for everyone; and this in turn requires a far greater focus on how we deliver Regeneration for real people, whoever and wherever they are.

There is not time right now to develop the theme of social equity, but I am sure everyone agrees it is a non-negotiable, in terms of taking things forward. There is no hope of Sustainability if we do not address the basic needs of all members of our society, women and men, people of every culture and ethnicity, older and young, city and country dwellers alike.

Sustainability is where the social meets the physical
And Sustainability is also the point at which my water metaphor turns into a literal reality. The physical and social worlds meet when we consider Sustainability.

Knowledge is not a finite resource. It can take any of the formats, by analogy, which water has; but it can and does also constantly increase in its volume and impact. And like water, this volume and impact must be managed, if it is to deliver positive change, not destruction.

One of the ways in which Knowledge grows is through our increased understanding of sustainable systems. In this sense, Regeneration practitioners cannot in truth do their job unless they seek also to do themselves out of one.

The end of Regeneration?
Our ambition has to be that Regeneration will become an occasional sideline, for ‘Emergencies Only’ if you like. Our main task as practitioners will be to manage change, and lead not simply on ‘Regeneration’, but rather on Sustainability.

At its best Regeneration provides the connectivity and energy to enable and empower everyone, at every level, building on common understandings to produce positive synergies and outcomes.

This is why I have concentrated here on the idea of Knowledge and how it ‘flows’.

Study Group on Knowledge, Science and Regeneration
And with BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association and a number of others - some of them here now - I am seeking to take this work forward.

We are developing a Study Group on Knowledge, Science and Regeneration and input to this would be very welcome. Please do get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Testing the 'Knowledge is like Water' analogy
But for now I will leave you with an invitation to test out my offered analogy between Knowledge and water:

1. Does the ‘Knowledge is like Water’ model actually ‘hold water’?

2. Does it help us to see how the management of Knowledge in different parts of the United Kingdom may vary, and why?

3. Does the ‘Knowledge is like Water - it flows where it can’ idea help us to see, at every level from Local Areas, through Sub-regions to large chunks of Britain, how a more equitable distribution of Knowledge might be achieved?

4. How might this distribution model nonetheless encourage a free-flow between many different points, such that the Knowledge Ecology, like a good water system, is kept healthy, vigorous and stable?

5. And lastly, how might developing a model to describe the movements and management of water help us in delivering Regeneration?

The interface of Knowledge and Regeneration
The new challenge in Regeneration is to see how in practice Regeneration can interface with Knowledge. This is much like the challenge of managing a watertable, whilst also providing the irrigation systems and the hydro-electric power for revitalising communities and the lives of the people living in them.

Those of us ‘Up North’ continue to hope that a synthesis of Sustainability and Growth will see improvements in our economy and basic standards of living, to match those already enjoyed by the more fortunate of our Southern cousins.

We want Sustainability, but most of us still want regional Growth as well.

I look forward through our work in the new Study Group to discovering more about how we can resolve these challenging demands.


I am grateful to a number of friends and colleagues for generous encouragement and commentary on this paper, and I will also of course appreciate further dialogue about any of the ideas I have here tried to explore. Please contact me, or use the Comments form below, as you wish. Thank you.

Read more about Science, Regeneration & Sustainability,
Science Policy
and
The Haldane Principle, 21st Century Science Research And Regional Policy;
and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures & Talks.

Research lab There are compelling reasons for a regional science policy for the UK; but they are often dismissed as incompatible with the Haldane Principle of 1904 and 1917/18, that government must not 'interfere' with scientific research. Science then was vastly less expensive and impacted far less on the economy and ordinary people's lives. In the 21st century, the potential for regional development through science is huge - and it can only be done through intentional government direction.

The 'arm's length' principle, that government should not intervene in how to determine what scientific research is done, was developed about a century ago, by Richard Burdon Haldane (1856-1928), who chaired UK Government commissions and committees on this subject in 1904 and 1917/18.

The 1918 Haldane Report recommended that only specifically required research should be commissioned and supervised by particular governmental departments. All other research, said Haldane, should be under autonomous Research Councils (of which the Medical Research Council was to become the first), free from political and administrative pressures and able to develop as was deemed fit by the Research Councils themselves.

Noble and fictional?
Noble as the pursuit of knowledge simply for its own sake may be, it's impossible in our age of huge expenditure on Big Science that this recommendation, now almost a century old, can remain unexamined as the way forward.

The possibly apocryphal story is told (sadly, I can't remember by whom) of one of the extraordinarily talented Huxley family having, many years ago, a laboratory at home in which he explored scientific questions; and of his son asking innocently of their young neighbour, what his father did in his (home) laboratory.... It's not like that any more.

And in most cases it probably wasn't like that then either. Not many people in any age have been able to pursue science just as a self-financed hobby.

Vast investments
As recent House of Commons debates have illustrated, there is growing concern that the UK Government's huge investment in science should have the best possible return, on what is in the end tax payers' money.

But no investment returns in our complex world can be measured in only one way. There are impacts of many kinds - on jobs and the economy, on infrastructure, on the environment, on people's future life expectations, as well as on the state of knowledge itself.

Who does what evaluation?
Few of these impacts are easily measured, and even fewer carefully monitored from when a line of research is first proposed. This is at least in part because of the Haldane Principle and its continuing influence on government.

Politicians continue be nervous of any accusation that Haldane has been breached, an accusation easily made by scientists keen to pursue their work unhindered. So, little is made of the positive or negative impacts that scientific research of itself (as opposed to later 'applied' through technology and industrial developments) may have on, for instance, the locations in which they may be placed.

Single criterion decisions
'The science', it is proclaimed, must speak for itself, unhindered by base considerations of how it might benefit (or otherwise) non-scientific developments such as urban regeneration.

One result of this position is that decisions about large-scale and fundamental scientific research are made only by scientists, with scant if any regard to the measurable impacts which the process - as opposed simply to the possible eventual outcomes - of undertaking the research might have on the people (tax payers) who provided the wherewithal.

Surely even a hundred years ago this was not Haldane's intention? He was in fact advising the government of the day on how best to benefit from science at a time of war.

Imaginations and applications
There is a strong case for supporting fundamental or 'pure' science, in the sense that it allows the very best scientists to take their disciplines forward in exciting and truly astonishing ways. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is a core activity in science, and, properly handled, can be an enormous catalyst for progress.

Haldane can be very properly invoked to ensure that there is no interference in the way fundamental science is actually done. We can understand that fundamental research requires scrupulous peer review, but never political meddling.

This is however very different from the idea that politicians have a positive duty to ensure all the 'added-value' they can squeeze for the wider community which they represent, when the government funds big research investments.

Regionalism and regeneration
In Haldane's time the very concept of regeneration as we now know it didn't exist.

It was only later that observers such as J.D. Bernal (in 1939) argued that the overarching consideration be social good rather than freedom of research; this being followed in 1971 by Sir Solly Zuckerman's critique of the artificial separation of applied and basic science - a critique in part accommodated by the Rothschild Report of the same year, which saw some funding and decision-making being handed back to government. (This thinking was also followed elsewhere, e.g. in 1972, when an article in the respected journal Nature called for an 'End to the Haldane Principle in Canada'.)

That was respectively 80 or 35 years ago; and despite continuing debate (in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere) it seems we still fail to see where Haldane helps in the modern world, and where he doesn't. I doubt this was a legacy the man himself intended.

Good science can also offer added value
There is little doubt that only good science is worth doing - the other sort isn't really science at all - and good science requires genuine independence for its practitioners. Haldane continues to offer assurance that scientists can and must conduct the work they do unhindered.

We should not however confuse this guarantee of research independence 'on the ground' with the duty upon government to ensure its (and our) money is invested well.

Sometimes the best investment is indeed in fundamental research, expensive though this is. But the 'non-science' dividends of placing that research, whether fundamental or applied, in one location rather than another, may be compelling.

Regional science policy
Now that science involves such enormous funding, the case for investing that money also as part of regeneration strategies in the UK 'regions' is persuasive.

Some scientists on Research Councils, divorced from the realities of wider public policy, may want to cite Haldane as they resist the idea of looking at regional investment impacts ensuing from the development of research proposals. They are wrong to do so.

The time has come for regional science policies to become part of the equation, acknowledging the impact that Big Science research based away from the Golden Triangle would have on areas of the UK which require regeneration. This is hardly an ask too far.

And it is certainly not a threat to the integrity or operational independence of science, Haldane Principle or not.


Read also:
Science & Politics

Natural Vs. Physical Science Research Points Up Regeneration Added-Value
and
Big Science, Technology And The New Localism

British Sociological Association (BSA) logo The British Sociological Association, founded in 1951, promotes the work of sociologists and social scientists as practitioners and scholars, in the UK and, through links, much further afield. Sociology offers an analysis which helps surprisingly large numbers of us make sense of what happens in our ever-changing world.

I recently re-joined the British Sociological Association, of which I was an Executive Committee member when I worked in further and higher education, much earlier in my career.

It's fascinating to see how things have evolved since that time, back in the 1980s.

Battles now won
Then we were battling to 'save' the Personal, Social and Health curriculum, which Sir Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Education under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was keen to remove or at the very least side-line. History in schools was to stop at 1945, the end of the Second World War and before the arrival in 1948 of the National Health Service (NHS) and Welfare State; Section 11 legislation made it almost professional suicide to teach about HIV / AIDS; the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had to be renamed the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) lest anyone should think that social research was scientific - in retrospect a far cry attitudinally from current demands for 'evidence-based' policy at the highest levels.

All this we addressed, through the Executives of the BSA and other professional associations, via FACTASS, The Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences, of which I was Convenor. Now there is no need for FACTASS. We managed to hang on in there, and it's unlikely that any mainstream politician in any modern democratic country would want to see it otherwise; the PSHE curriculum and entitlement of children to understand their world is, along with positive resolution of the GCSEs-for-all debate, now established.

Fundamentals
But the fundamental emphases of the BSA on social equity; on understanding the interactive social constructions which give meaning to our daily lives, continue, developed and debated by people who have now spent a lifetime exploring how human societies and communities work and are understood by the people in them.

The 'classics' - gender, 'race' and ethnicity, age and life transitions, and social class - remain (alongside matters such as health and medicine, work and employment, and so forth) the fundamental building blocks of sociological analysis, keeping us constantly aware that big and sometimes invisible forces shape our day-to-day experience, even to the extent that they often determine our actual life expectancy.

New social analysis too
And beyond that, there is a new and critical emphasis on our physical world, on sustainability and green issues and how societies and communities will find themselves responding to the challenges we all face.

It may be too soon to say that Human Geographers and Sociologists have found completely common ground, but it looks as though a convergence may slowly be developing, after a decade or more when the gathering of empirical data on population change and socio-economic impacts was sometimes perceived to be enough to take governmental programmes and political policy forward.

Contextualising for the future
There is now a recognition that 'social research' must inform, e.g., environmental as well as community, health and education policies. (I was recently a co-author of the Defra Science Advisory Council report on Social Research in Defra - a fascinating and I hope very fruitful experience.)

The BSA, I note, has a growing Section (interest) Group on Sociologists Outside Academia (SOAg). I intend to sign up for it.

See more articles on Social Science , and
History Lessons Need More Than 'Hitler And Henry'
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