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Evidence Week in Parliament: driving the use of scientific evidence in decision making

Published: 10 August 2018
Dr Matt Loxham
Dr Matt Loxham at the Evidence Week in Parliament

On Thursday 28th June, I was invited to be part of Sense about Science’s “Evidence Week” in the Houses of Parliament. This event was organised to help MPs and their staff understand the importance of scientific evidence in decision making, and to give them access to experts in fields associated with a number of different wicked problems (the term used for seemingly intractable or highly multi-faceted problem).

In this case, the topic for discussion was Air Pollution.  Located in one of the upper lobbies of the Houses of Parliament, a stall was located to advertise the aims of the activity, and to encourage interested visitors to ask us any questions.  I worked with experts from King’s College London and the University of Manchester to give MPs and their staff the most rounded, accurate, and up-to-date information on air pollution. 

Much of the information we gave to MPs was based on DEFRA’s and King’s College’s models of air pollution levels across the country.  In particular, MPs were keen to know about the levels of air pollution in their own constituencies, what the major sources of pollution might be, and what effects it might have on their constituents.  Some MPs, mainly those representing inner city constituencies, were visibly shocked by the levels of air pollution, and were concerned about how they might be reduced, as well as ways in which exposure to air pollution might be avoided.

The day also gave us the chance to highlight some of the misconceptions about air quality, in particular that EU legal limits on air pollution represent “safe” levels.  In fact, they do not, and more than one MP was interested to hear that simply having concentrations of pollution below legal limits did not mean that the health effects of the pollution would be absent.

 

Conservation with Mary Creagh MP
Conservation with Mary Creagh MP

Some of the longer conversations were with MPs’ staff, since MPs themselves were often very busy running between meetings.  I had the chance to discuss sources of pollution, and some of the knowledge gaps regarding pollution – in particular, those regarding the very smallest, ultrafine, particulates, and the effects of pollution on dementia were two subjects which arose more than once.  However, a ten minute discussion with Mary Creagh MP (Wakefield) towards the end of the day, between two speeches she was giving in the House of Commons chamber on air quality (very timely), was most lively, and she was both clearly surprised at levels of pollution in London, and keen to know what the best possible solutions might be.

My main motive for a career in scientific research was to further knowledge and improve lives.  Opportunities like this, to interact with and to inform key policy makers are invaluable if we are to get our expertise and understanding into an arena where it can truly make a difference.

Dr Matt Loxham

BBSRC Future Leader Fellow in Respiratory Biology and Air Pollution Toxicology in Medicine

University of Southampton 

 

This article originally appeared in Evidence to Policy here, a blog by Public Policy|Southampton.

Public Policy|Southampton is a research facility hosted by the University of Southampton which supports researchers to engage with policymakers. If you would like to discuss the policy impact of your research  contact them via publicpolicy@southampton.ac.uk.

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