Only scientist in Commons 'alarmed' at MPs' ignorance

The only scientist in the House of Commons has called for all MPs to be required to take a crash course in basic scientific techniques.

Julian Huppert, a research biochemist who became the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge at the last election, said he was alarmed at the lack of scientific knowledge among colleagues.

In an interview with The Independent, he also accused political leaders of paying "lip service" to the importance of scientific proof and warned that looming cuts to university research budgets could provoke a "brain drain" from Britain.

Although there are other backbenchers with scientific backgrounds, Dr Huppert is the sole MP to have practised past PhD level, specialising most recently on DNA structures.

He said it was a real concern that the Commons – which is full of career politicians, lawyers and economists – lacked scientific expertise. Dr Huppert, a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, argued that all MPs should be obliged to take a short science training course, covering areas such as how research is conducted, numeracy and the use of statistics.

"It would be really important for all MPs to have some exposure, because some of them will not have studied any science since they were 15 and it's important to understand how to engage with it," he said. "You would then have a lot of MPs who were able to understand the information they were being presented with."

Accusing some MPs of being "anti-science", he said: "They have a set of beliefs and they will argue that regardless of the science."

Dr Huppert said political leaders tended to come up with a stance and then tried to make the evidence fit it, rather than being driven by the science. He cited the previous government's decision to make the drug mephedrone a banned substance after claims about the role it played in the deaths of several young people.

"What we saw was a policy based on media reports, rather than based on evidence, and that does happen too much, " he said. "As a researcher I will come up with a hypothesis, which I may talk about to people, I'll then do some experiments and test it and will then change my hypothesis based on what I find. If you do that in politics, that's a U-turn and a defeat."

Although he absolved the Science minister, David Willetts, from criticism, he said a "tricky" relationship had developed between MPs and scientists. "Generally, they are two separate camps who do not communicate," he said.

Dr Huppert gained a seat on Cambridgeshire County Council when he was 22 – the same age at which he gained his PhD. He pursued the two careers in parallel until the election in May, when he succeeded fellow Liberal Democrat David Howarth, who stood down as the MP for Cambridge to return to academia.

Dr Huppert said: "Science in some senses is what I am good at, but politics is what I care about." He also hit out at suggestions that university research budgets could fall victim to the public spending squeeze being undertaken by the Government.

He acknowledged that savings had to be made because of the nation's "disastrous" financial plight, but said that other countries have been responding to the global economic downturn by increasing their investment in science.

"Britain does a lot of very good research for very little money, but at some point people will just say: 'I have had enough.' People could maybe survive say a 10 per cent cut – I'm not saying it is ideal – but people might be able to do that.

"If it's more serious than that, a lot of people will say: 'Hang on, why am I doing this? Why am I not applying for a professorship in the US?' At some level it becomes an irreversible blight on science, which would be tragic."

Not only would top-rate scientists leave the country – but foreign high-fliers would be deterred from taking up posts here, Dr Huppert warned.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Life & Style
life
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit