Coalition has been ‘worse for science’

The coalition is to blame for a series of "particularly weak ministers" struggling to get to grips with science, the chair of the Commons' science and technology committee has told

Andrew Miller said it was one of the "downsides of coalitions" that they produce ministers who struggle to match their policies with scientific advice.

He suggested the Liberal Democrats had made questionable appointments which meant some able MPs were left on the sidelines while others had been given "unlikely-fitting slots".

Miller criticised David Cameron for replacing Adam Afriyie, the former shadow science minister, when the coalition was formed in 2010.

"To say there wasn't a place for someone with the talents of Adam was a bit of an odd one," he said.

"They've had to make space for lesser mortals coming from the other party."

He questioned whether Lynne Featherstone was really of ministerial calibre and pointed out Lib Dem minister Jeremy Browne's evidence to his committee on forensic science had been "condemned".

"That's an example of where the nature of the coalition had produced somebody who was a square peg in a round hole," Miller added.

"There are a number of examples like that. That's one of the downsides of coalitions."

Miller was speaking in a interview in which he suggested all new ministers should receive basic science lessons.

"My demand would be that every person who becomes a minister at least ought to have a briefing from a chief scientist in the department about the simple principles of scientific methodology so that policy is as far as is possible driven by informed ministers who use the available science in a rational way," he said.

The biggest tension between scientific advice and political debate is in the area of climate science, after a series of recent storms caused damage across the UK from high winds and widespread flooding.

Miller spoke out against organisations like the Global Policy Foundation which continue to question the science behind climate change.

"They're relying on things they wouldn't rely on in other walks of life," he said.

"They are saying, 'well look, you're only saying it's 85% certain, I'm on the side of the 15%', and my response to that is, if I was 85% certain that I'd be run over when I was crossing the road, I wouldn't be bloody crossing the road.

"Get real on some of these figures! This is about people abusing figures in a way that is utterly, utterly irresponsible."