In December 2016 we launched #MyScienceInquiry as an open opportunity to suggest science and technology areas for scrutiny.
We received 78 written and video submissions all of which are available on our website. The responses covered a broad range of potential subjects, spanning both 'policy for science' and 'science for policy'.
We invited nine people to come and pitch their idea to us in person so we could hear more about the topic. We've now selected two of those topics as the basis for new inquiries.
Today we're launching an inquiry into Algorithms in decision-making.
This idea was pitched to us by Dr Stephanie Mathisen (Sense about Science). She argued that algorithms were increasingly being used to make decisions that affect people's lives, but with little transparency or accountability and a risk of embedding biases.
Later this year we'll be looking at hydrogen and fuel cells
Amanda Lyne (UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association) proposed an inquiry into how the development of hydrogen and fuel cells could be better coordinated in order to provide benefits to the energy system. We'll be launching an inquiry into this later this year.
Here are some of the other topics we heard about:
Sandy Starr (Progress Educational Trust) suggested that we should hold an inquiry into extending the '14-day rule'—a limit on the length of time human embryos can be used for scientific research. We'll examine whether there should be a full-scale inquiry once we've undertaken our work on genomics and genome editing.
Bob Ward (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment) was concerned that the Cabinet Office was not considering an appropriate range of evidence when making major decisions, and was lacking a dedicated Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA).
Dr Bryn Jones highlighted issues relating to research careers in the UK, including an imbalance in the number of PhD studentships compared with long-term academic positions, and an emphasis of short-term contracts for postdoctoral scientists.
Professor Shahin Rahimifard (Loughborough University) told us that net-positive manufacturing involved ensuring that there was an overall benefit to the environment and society from the manufacturing process. He suggested that there was a need to understand better the scientific and engineering challenges associated with this.
Dr Michael Brand (Sensor 100) explained that early diagnosis of cancer was an effective means of improving outcomes for patients, and that funding for research into biosensors was needed, alongside commercialisation efforts. We will follow up this issue as part of our regular sessions with the UK Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies.
Professor Becky Parker drew our attention to the work of the Institute for Research in Schools, which facilitates school children undertaking science research themselves. The points raised will be incorporated into our ongoing inquiry into the STEM skills gap.
Two of the original written submissions, from Jack Neville and Sarah Jakes, addressed issues around the increasing use of e-cigarettes. We have considered in the past whether to undertake an inquiry in this area. We have decided that the time is right to hold an inquiry into e-cigarettes. We will be calling for written evidence in due course.
Thank you for all your submissions to #MyScienceInquiry. Look out for future opportunities to contribute to our work.
Find out more about the work of select committees in the House of Commons by watching the video below: