Time for a rethink for science lobby

Science lost one of its strongest parliamentary supporters with the surprise defeat of Evan Harris, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who is also a medical doctor. Dr Harris, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on science, lost his seat by just 176 votes to the Conservative candidate, Nicola Blackwood.

Dr Harris's departure from the House of Commons was seen as a body blow to science, given that he has been a strong champion of issues ranging from stem cell research to the campaign to reform Britain's libel laws following the case of the science writer Simon Singh, who was sued for his comments on chiropractic.

Tributes to Dr Harris yesterday included one from the Labour Science minister, Lord Drayson, who said: "Parliament has lost a leading advocate of science. Evan Harris will be sorely missed."

Professor David Nutt, who resigned as chairman of the Government's drugs advisory committee, said that it was a sad day for science and the Government: "Evan was such a great voice for rationality and evidence."

Other leading advocates of science in the House of Commons who have left because of retirement include the former Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, who chaired the Commons Science and Technology Committee, and Brian Iddon, the former Labour MP for Bolton South East.

Four other sitting MPs with an interest or background in science, all of them Liberal Democrats, also failed to regain their seats. They were Lembit Opik, who took a keen interest in space, Willie Rennie, Paul Rowen and Sandra Gidley.

However, Julian Huppert, a working computational scientist at Cambridge University, won the Cambridge seat for the Liberal Democrats. He is one of the few MPs with a science degree and probably the only one with direct, recent experience of university research.