Some of you will know me. Some of you won’t. I’m Mark Henderson —
I’m Science Editor of The Times*, and I’m also currently writing a book about science and politics. It’s called The Geek Manifesto, it’ll be published next spring by Bantam Press, and this blog is here so that you can contribute to it.
The idea behind the book is fairly simple. The geeks, nerds and dorks of this world are no longer apologising for their slightly obsessive interest in science and critical thinking. Through events such as Simon Singh’s libel case, the sacking of Professor David Nutt as the British Government’s chief drugs adviser, and the Science is Vital campaign to protect British science against spending cuts, they’re beginning to gather the confidence to fight for the causes that matter to them. They are creating an emerging political force, and one that is sorely needed.
Science and politics have never got as much out of one another as they could. Science doesn’t always get the support it deserves from politicians: poor funding, badly-framed regulation, and policy initiatives such as the immigration cap often hamper researchers and their research. Equally, politics doesn’t draw often enough on the problem-solving power of the scientific method — the best tool yet developed for working out what works.
Many of the most pressing social and political issues of our time would be more tractable if politicians were to listen more to the geeks. Whether we want to improve education or cut crime, to enhance public health or to generate clean energy, science and its experimental method is critical.
In The Geek Manifesto, I’ll be exploring some of the policy failures that have emerged from this disconnect between science and politics. I’ll also be looking for answers: what can governments do to improve matters, and what can geeks themselves do to put science more firmly on their radar?
And I’d like your help.
Over the next month or two, as I plan the book, I’d be grateful for any thoughts and contributions you might have. Can you point me towards good or bad practice in political engagement with science? Do you have any bright ideas about how those who value scientific thinking can see it more fruitfully exploited by ministers and civil servants? Who should I talk to? What should I read?
You can comment here, or you can talk to me on Twitter or Facebook. If you’d rather email me, I’ve set up an account at markgfh1 at yahoo dot co dot uk.
I want this to be a book that will draw on all your experience of science and politics, as well as mine. I’ll be very grateful for your contributions.
I’ll be posting more to ask specific questions, and to explain aspects of my approach in more detail, over the coming weeks. Given my deadline, I’m expecting the data-gathering phase of this project to be busiest through January and February, before I have to order my thoughts and start writing — but I’ll be open to ideas right up until I have to submit.
Given my own experience and expertise, The Geek Manifesto is going to be principally British in focus, but I’m keen to include case studies and ideas from other countries as well wherever they’re appropriate. If you’ve got an idea, please share, wherever it might come from.
Thanks in advance for your help!
* – (update 31/3/2012) I’ve struck this through because while I was Science Editor of The Times when I wrote this post, I left the paper at the end of last year to join the Wellcome Trust as Head of Communications. I should point out that the views in The Geek Manifesto are mine, and not those of the Wellcome Trust.