Science and Technology Committee
Corrected oral evidence: Delivering a UK science and technology strategy
Tuesday 15 March 2022
Members present: Baroness Brown of Cambridge (Chair); Viscount Hanworth; Lord Holmes of Richmond; Lord Krebs; Lord Mitchell; Lord Patel; Lord Rees of Ludlow; Baroness Rock; Baroness Sheehan; Baroness Walmsley; Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe; Lord Winston.
Evidence Session No. 8 Heard in Public Questions 57 - 63
Dr John Holdren, Former Science Adviser to President Obama and Research Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Dr Marga Gual Soler, International Science Diplomacy Expert; Dr Ami Appelbaum, Chair of the Board, Israel Innovation Authority and Chief Scientist, Ministry of Economy and Industry.
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and webcast on www.parliamentlive.tv.
Dr John Holdren, Dr Marga Gual Soler and Dr Ami Appelbaum.
The Chair: Good morning to our second panel of witnesses. A very especially warm welcome, because they are all joining us from overseas. Although it is lovely to have witnesses here in person, one of the benefits of all the new skills we have learned over the lockdown period has been that we can now have overseas witnesses without you having to travel. Thank you so much for joining us at all your different times of day.
Before we start on the questions, I would just like to remind you that this session is being broadcast on the internet. A transcript of today’s session will be sent to you in a few days’ time for you to check and send in any minor corrections. If there is anything you feel you would like to have said but do not get a chance to or anything you want to clarify, we would be delighted to receive supplementary evidence in writing from you after the meeting. If that is clear to all our witnesses, we will start with the questions. We will start with Lord Patel.
Q57 Lord Patel: Good morning to you all. I echo the Chair’s remarks. Thank you for joining us. I was going to say, “Good morning, afternoon and very early morning”, because of the different time zones.
My question is quite a big one in a way, so I hope you will keep your answers brief. It is to find out from you what government strategies and policies in your countries have been most effective in delivering and encouraging science policies and innovations. To you, Dr Soler, an additional or separate question is to tell us briefly what science diplomacy is and how it can be used to encourage government policies and strategies.
Dr John Holdren: I am from Harvard University. I was President Obama’s science adviser for all eight years of his presidency.
On the question of what strategies we have used in the United States from the government side to encourage science and innovation, I would say that several have been important. Perhaps most important has been the funding of partnerships across disciplines, agencies and sectors. These are partnerships across the Government, academia, business and civil society.
A second policy or strategy that has been very important has been engagement of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the development of decadal research agendas. A third item that we gave great emphasis in the Obama Administration was strengthening science, technology, engineering and maths education, as Obama liked to say, from preschool to grad school and beyond. Something that has been very important is providing entrepreneurship training for postdoctoral fellows, particularly those funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
Lord Patel: What was your role as an adviser? How strong was that role?
Dr John Holdren: In the US system, the President’s science adviser is also dual-hatted as the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; chair of the National Science and Technology Council, which co-ordinates science and technology activities across all the departments and agencies; and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The person who holds that position is ordinarily given the White House rank of assistant to the President, which means one of about a dozen direct reports to the President of the United States. That means you see the President often. You can send the President a memo or get an appointment with the President whenever it is necessary.
The influence of that office comes from the fact that everybody across the Government knows that the President’s science adviser meets with the President regularly and the President listens carefully to the advice of the science adviser. The influence also comes from the fact that the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House has joint responsibility with the Office of Management and Budget for determining, in concert with the President, what the President will recommend to the Congress in the way of budgets for R&D activities all across the Government. The influence on the R&D budgets of the Cabinet departments, the freestanding agencies and the offices is a reason why every Cabinet Secretary answers the phone call of the President’s science adviser or OSTP director.
Lord Patel: It is a very influential post. I might come back to you later about how it compares with the UK if the time allows. Dr Appelbaum, can I pose to you the same question? What makes the Government’s science and innovation policies a success in Israel?
Dr Ami Appelbaum: Good afternoon, although it is good morning in England. I am the chair and head of the Israel Innovation Authority, which is a separate legal entity that invests public money into the private sector. In the food chain of technology, there is academia in Israel, which is run by a separate organisation, the Council for Higher Education. It is in charge of basic research and educating the next generation of engineers and scientists in Israel. It enjoys complete freedom of science and technology, and is funded by the Israel Science Foundation.
The Israel Innovation Authority, which is my organisation, gets into the game once projects are being researched as applied research with connection to the industry. The Israel Innovation Authority benefits from an annual budget of about $500 million to $600 million, which is invested in R&D in the private sector. It is a pretty unique situation.
We are looking to fund innovation that the financial entities, such as VC or other funds, are still not willing or ready to invest in. We are looking into breakthrough technology that will change the world. We invest jointly with the entities that apply to us. We put in 50% of the budget, and it is matched by whoever applies to us. If you like, the $500 million is an investment of $1 billion: half by the Government and half by the entity that applies to us.
The policy for innovation is very complicated. It is part of the culture of people to think out of the box. In Israel, we see a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. Since the establishment of Israel, we as a country have been experiencing the necessity of bringing people to what I would call “extreme thinking” on elements that people might not even think of in other more ordinary countries. Out-of-the-box thinking is necessary for the ecosystem of strong academia, VCs and multiple multinational companies we have in Israel. More than 400 multinational companies are conducting research and development, and that technology is diffusing across all fields in Israel.
Later on, the VCs and investment that Israel is attracting will allow start-ups to grow and become unicorns. Israel benefits from, or has, more than 72 unicorns. More than half of them became unicorns in the past year.
Lord Patel: That is a great story. I might come back to you as a supplementary if the time allows. Dr Soler, what is science diplomacy and how can it be used to influence government in its strategies and policies?
Dr Marga Gual Soler: Thank you very much to this committee for inviting me to address you today. I am an international expert in science diplomacy. I am originally from Spain, but I just want to say that I do not work for or represent the Spanish Government. I advise Governments, international organisations, UN agencies and others in designing and strengthening science advice and science diplomacy capacities and structures. I spent seven years at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which, together with the Royal Society, presented the first definition and framework for science diplomacy. This is very relevant to you, and to Professor Holdren, who is a witness with me today. I will bring a comparative perspective more than a one-country approach or model, if that is okay for this committee today.
What is science diplomacy? As I was saying, it is not new. It is the use of science, and the universal value and language of science, as a diplomatic tool to bring countries together, often in situations in which political, diplomatic or other relationships are not at their best. The scientific community working together across the world, often without regard for these more complicated dimensions of diplomatic relationships, allows us to work together addressing global challenges that are more and more transboundary, such as the Covid crisis or climate change. For that, more and more countries are now taking this from an ad hoc and intangible asset of science to a more strategic and intentional policy.
Governments around the world are now creating what they call national science diplomacy strategies. That can mean structurally updating or revamping the structure of their foreign ministries, for example by appointing a science adviser to the foreign ministry, as Dr Holdren just described in the US. In the UK, you have one of the oldest systems for science advice to all ministries, from the Prime Minister to the Foreign Office and all the other departments. The US, the UK and other countries, mostly from the global north, such as Japan, have been pioneers. They have a long tradition of establishing those capacities and embedding scientific expertise in all policy areas, but more and more countries around the world are also intentionally picking up on this idea.
We can distinguish three pillars of science diplomacy very briefly, and I am happy to submit further evidence. We can think of diplomacy for science, and this is how the diplomatic apparatus and foreign policy structures can come together to support scientific advancement. Talking about large scientific infrastructures such as particle accelerators, international space stations, telescopes or big laboratories, any transnational facility requires not only scientific expertise and scientists coming together from around the world, but a diplomatic agreement underneath that to support, fund and regulate the operation of this infrastructure. More and more, foreign policy and development system policy are shifted into building these joint scientific capacities and joint programmes internationally.
The second dimension would be science in diplomacy, which is equivalent to evidence in foreign policy that we are all familiar with. How do we bring scientific information to the global diplomatic table? For example, when negotiating climate agreements or any sort of international agreement that requires scientific expertise, scientists and diplomats must work together to provide the best negotiation position for the country, but also to arrive at a global consensus about a challenge that is transboundary in nature and requires collective action. This is something that the UK also does very well in terms of training diplomats at the Foreign Office to understand the scientific technology and deploy scientists in embassies and diplomatic missions around the world.
The third dimension is the one that most concerns us today.
The Chair: Can you give us a very concise summary of the third dimension, please?
Dr Marga Gual Soler: Yes. The third dimension is science for diplomacy, which refers to what I mentioned earlier. How can science open channels for dialogue between scientists from different countries where diplomatic relations are not at their best, and how can we sustain scientific co-operation in light of diplomatic challenges?
Lord Patel: You said you could supply us with some more information; we would be grateful for that.
Dr Marga Gual Soler: Thank you.
Q58 Baroness Rock: Dr Holdren, you mentioned in your opening remarks the importance of choosing appropriate partners to collaborate with. Perhaps you and Dr Appelbaum could comment on how your governments have approached issues of international collaboration, particularly sometimes with a tension between science and technology transfers between nations and safeguarding intellectual property. Perhaps you could give us some examples of those collaborations. An important question for the UK Government is whether the UK is perceived as an attractive partner for scientific collaborations on the global stage.
Dr John Holdren: The United States has 46 bilateral science and technology co-operation agreements. They are managed jointly by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the State Department. Six of them are at the ministerial level; that is, they are overseen by the Minister of Science and Technology in the partner country and the President’s science adviser or OSTP director in the United States.
Those interactions take place annually with each of the partners, and they alternate between countries. The question of protection of intellectual property is an important one. It is addressed in part by invariably having the head of the US Patent and Trademark Office and the deputy US trade representative as part of the US delegation. The delegations on the other side typically also include the heads of the relevant intellectual property and trade offices.
The interactions in the science and diplomacy domain are also carried out in a wide variety of multilateral engagements organised by the G7, the G20, the OECD, APEC and so on. In those as well, there is a focus on the tensions that arise between co-operation and competition around intellectual property, and sometimes around defence issues. The management of all those activities is responsible both to the President and the Congress for appropriate handling of competitiveness issues, intellectual property and national security issues. We get interrogated by the United States Congress on those issues, so we are very careful.
Dr Ami Appelbaum: The Israel Innovation Authority has more than 70 bilateral agreements with countries, states and institutions. Those agreements typically call for collaboration between Israeli and foreign companies. Typically, we keep ourselves out of the agreement between the companies regarding the IP because, if they are developing something together, they have to reach an agreement on where the IP resides. However, if the development is done in Israel and it is only in-kind services by the foreign country or opening the market, we insist that the IP will stay in Israel.
In general, all the funds that I mentioned earlier are conditional on the IP and the jobs that will be created staying in Israel. We are not funding companies that move their IP overseas. However, they have a way—and I do not want to go into those details—to buy it out from the Government. Typically, they have to pay three to six times what we provided them.
Continuing on the international collaborations, there is Horizon Europe. Israel was an associated country in Horizon 2020 and the programmes before. We have now signed with Horizon Europe. I know that Great Britain still has not signed, and we really hope that you will be able to join this effort. In case you do not, Israel will definitely find a way to collaborate with Great Britain because, to your last question, we perceive the collaboration on the scientific and technology levels. We perceive the UK as one of the world leaders. It is known that most of the relationships that Israel has are with the US. On science and on research and development, our collaboration is with the US, but second to that Great Britain is a partner.
Last but not least, we have five binational funds that Israel puts money into. It could be the Baird Foundation. It is an endowment of $110 million, and every year we distribute jointly with the US, in this case at least, about $10 million to $15 million for companies that are conducting joint research and development. Again, the two companies need to reach the agreement on the IP between themselves. I am co-chair of that, and it is my personal observation that those global collaborations are a great opportunity to explore more ideas. It is very valuable for creating new ideas and developing stuff that each country on its own otherwise might have difficulty seeing.
Q59 Lord Holmes of Richmond: Thank you to the witnesses for taking the time to be with us today. Do the Government influence academic institutions in your countries to focus on national priorities? If so, what mechanisms do they use?
Dr John Holdren: The most potent influence of the Government on academic research and development is the funding from the Government to universities. That funding is not only in basic research, but in a wide variety of areas of applied research. Wherever the money is, that is often where the academics go. For example, when the Government are trying to encourage research in advanced manufacturing, they create competitions and give grants focused on advanced manufacturing. When they want to emphasise biomedical science with application to cancer, they increase the funding for cancer research.
They are currently in the process of revitalising government funding for climate science and innovative technologies that can help to address the climate change challenge, and universities are quite responsive to the government funding in whatever domains the Government are trying to advance. The one significant exception is that most universities do not conduct defence research that is classified on their campuses, but very often have off-campus institutes that are under the overall supervision of the university and do defence research.
Dr Ami Appelbaum: In Israel, it is driven by a fund. The Council for Higher Education of Israel distributes that fund. Short of that, there is no guidance for academia on how to conduct its basic research or applied research. It is something that we feel needs to be addressed in some areas. For example, today, in quantum or artificial intelligence, we would like to see more activities in academia than what we see. In addition, there are a limited number of funds by which ministries, such as the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Transport, National Infrastructure and Road Safety, fund some activity, but it is mainly applied research.
We in the Israel Innovation Authority are executing bottom-up thinking, meaning that we believe entrepreneurs are smarter than the Government. The entrepreneurs come with their ideas and are allowed to come with an out-of-the-box and great thought that would make everyone scratch their head and say, “This is unbelievable. That cannot be done”. With our evaluators and subject matter experts, we do a thorough analysis with the Israel Innovation Authority. We prefer to fund those projects that are great technological breakthroughs, even if no one yet knows what the end product will be or how to make money out of it. That bottom-up strategy has proved itself again and again. We see companies coming with really breakthrough and disruptive technologies.
We have a little bit of top-down. For example, today, we all know that quantum is going to change the technology and artificial intelligence will change everything that we do, from education to farming to healthcare. We have a body, which is outside the ministries, but is between the Israel Innovation Authority, the Ministry of Health representatives and higher education. It is not a government decision; it is a professional body that defines the future technologies that we see emerging.
As I said, quantum technology, artificial intelligence, life sciences, biology and engineering are converging. We call it bio-convergence. We know that, for example, combining healthcare and remote health with data and artificial intelligence will change the world. It will change how we live, and we see it as one of the main growth engines for Israel’s economy.
Dr Marga Gual Soler: We see the trend that most research funding programmes are national, whereas in Europe all of them are moving towards mission-driven research and innovation, with moonshot-style challenges. The key element here is alignment between the national research priorities and the global research priorities and agendas. We are seeing more and more that the global challenges are felt at a local level and vice versa. No solution will come without the addition of multiple local solutions. That alignment and bidirectional engagement between national and global research agendas is fundamental.
The question that follows is about including the private sector and consolidation. We can talk in the next question about how patterns are changing, as “academic versus private sector” is dissolving. With the conversion technologies that Dr Appelbaum was mentioning, the line between basic science and applied science, and academic science and private science, is blurring. We are seeing a new paradigm in which all of this is going to dissolve, so we need to be prepared for that. Otherwise, we will be stuck in the old model. Innovation and discoveries are now made equally, or on a much larger scale than before, in the private sector, which also makes it difficult to regulate top down and prepare for unintended consequences of those innovations. I am talking about AI, quantum, gene editing and conversion technologies.
Q60 Lord Mitchell: Good morning to everybody. I have an interest to declare; I am a member of the international board of the Weizmann Institute in Israel. Therefore, not surprisingly, Dr Appelbaum, my question will be first of all directed to you. What strategies have your Government used to encourage the commercialisation of discoveries and innovations that come from pure and applied research?
Dr Ami Appelbaum: Every university has a commercialisation office. Their mission is to aggregate and collect the projects and research that they believe are worth commercialisation, and to negotiate opposite industry and the private sector on how to commercialise them. They are driven by generating revenue to their respective universities. That is from one side of academia.
In the Israel Innovation Authority, our job is to create innovation and disruptive technology and scale it up. We know that the seeds of new technology reside in academia. We are issuing multiple calls for application for supporting applied research and translational activities. It is very respectful and prestigious for academia to get those funds.
On top of this, we bring together researchers and representatives from the industry to work together and direct applied research toward the industry. Two years ago, even the Council for Higher Education, which was funding the academia, made a change. It gave more credit or funds in relation to how much technology you have transferred to the industry, how many patents you have signed and how many agreements of consortia you have created with the industry and academia. There is a stimulating financial package to encourage academia to transfer technology.
Everyone looks up to Israel and says, “Wow, you have a perfect system”. I argue that we do not. There is endless knowhow and technology still buried in the professor’s drawer. It is not being distributed, and Israel and the world are not getting the full benefit of that potential. We are continuously looking into how to improve our methodology, end to end, from basic research to applied research, from translational to industry, from start-up to growth company, and at the impact on the world’s well-being and Israel’s economy.
Lord Mitchell: Dr Holdren, what is the situation in the United States?
Dr John Holdren: The situation in the United States relies very heavily on partnerships across sectors, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, and the engagement of government laboratories, universities and businesses jointly in innovation. We are creating innovation hubs focused on specific challenges and bringing together businesses, academia and government labs with expertise relating to those challenges to try to advance the process of research, development and innovation, such that the comparative advantage of each kind of entity is brought to the fore.
In the Obama Administration, we launched an extraordinary number of initiatives. Every one of them was constructed as a partnership with, for example, representatives of business, government labs and academics in the room when the enterprises were being designed, not just adding business or academics after the Government had planned the programme. It is crucial to engage all the players from the outset. That was true in the National Strategic Computing Initiative, the BRAIN Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot. Every case was constructed as a partnership.
I would emphasise, as has been mentioned by others, the importance of promoting and supporting thinking outside the box. If there is a weakness in the innovation system, it is excessive fear of failure. If you are not failing some of the time, you are not trying sufficiently advanced ideas out. R&D has to be judged on a portfolio basis, and you expect the successful innovations to pay not only for themselves, but for the failures. If you are not failing from time to time, you are not trying enough.
I found in my time in the Obama Administration that the Congress in particular was much too failure-averse. Any time something that was tried did not work, the Congress considered this an indictment of the Administration. You cannot run successful research programmes in that way. The other problem was a lack of appreciation in the Congress for the importance of fundamental research as the seed corn from which applied innovation will come in the future. Many members of Congress want to know in advance how the findings will benefit the economy or national security. In fact, if you require each proposal to demonstrate in advance how it will improve the economy or national security, you will fail to do many of the most interesting things.
Dr Marga Gual Soler: Following on from Dr Holdren, the increasing focus on societal impact and economic benefit from innovation also comes with the other side, which is how we encourage innovation when it is in the very basic state of the research pathway, steer it towards only the beneficial outcomes and applications, and avoid the unintended or collateral negative consequences that it can have. This is a dilemma that many countries are facing. How far do we allow a new technology that is sometimes very basic but could result in exponential benefits for humanity in 20 to 50 years, but at the same time could lead us to a path of challenges for democracy, national security and multilateral governance? We are already seeing this with advances in AI, quantum, synthetic biology and so forth.
There is a need to have a little bit of anticipation and not to stifle innovation when we do not know where it is going to lead. This is a question that nobody has really solved yet. In designing and funding research, where are the limits to the kind of science we can allow to go forth? What kind of science should we perhaps not take further when it could lead us to negative societal, political and economic impacts that we do not know the evolution of yet, and could perpetuate racial, gender and geopolitical biases? This is a question for the next 100 years of managing and funding innovation.
Q61 Lord Winston: Dr Soler, can you explain to me the difference between science engagement and diplomacy? Perhaps more importantly, there are a large number of academics in Britain who are quite hostile to the idea of exploiting their IPR and are very reluctant to, for example, apply for patents. There are very good reasons for this. I wondered whether you had encountered that in other countries and whether any of the panellists could advise us on what they have found in their own countries, perhaps particularly in Israel. I should declare an interest as the co-chair of the UK-Israel Science Council with Ruth Arnon of the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Dr Marga Gual Soler: This is a very good question. Science engagement is a broader concept that can basically mean that scientists are interfacing with other aspects or sectors of society. It could be communication, advocacy or policy. It is a much broader umbrella for scientists to engage broadly with society.
Science diplomacy is a narrower concept that concerns how science can be a tool for foreign relations and foreign policy, so it has this international dimension. Science engagement can also happen at the local policy or domestic level. When we use the word “diplomacy”, we immediately refer to international collaboration and how science can help us achieve our national goals by working with others, and vice versa. Scientists can sometimes be reluctant to put those labels on themselves because the word “diplomacy” can suggest some sort of politicisation of science or a threat to the neutrality and academic independence of scientists and scientific institutions. This is one of the foundations of science and is much valued by researchers.
It is a very good question, because it brings us to this interface where we want science to have societal impact and inform policy and diplomacy. This means that scientists need to engage, and scientific information must be accessible to policymakers while preserving the independence, neutrality and values of a scientific enterprise without them perceiving that they are being instrumentalised for political purposes. It is a very fine line to navigate, but I am sure my fellow witnesses have a lot more to say about this.
Dr Ami Appelbaum: There has been a change in Israel. Going back 10 to 15 years, there was more objection and resistance in academia toward applied research in general. A professor would move up the ladder and their career primarily on basic research, publishing in respectable magazines and being quoted as much as a professor could be. With the budgetary constraints that Israel’s academia has been suffering for years and a lack of funding from the Government, institutions, academia and universities have started to see the value of generating their own revenue streams. The Weizmann Institute is known for commercialising some medicines that have brought a fortune to the institution.
There is a fine line and a trade-off. No one is willing to compromise basic research. That said, there is value in commercialisation, bringing technology to the market and getting revenue streams on one hand, but also in supporting and educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, filling in the lines of highly trained professional engineers when Israel is suffering from a huge shortage of talent today, and driving academia more and more to enable, allow and even give credit to professors in applied research and collaborating with technology.
Dr John Holdren: In the United States, and I would suspect in many other countries, there is a lot of variation among academics in different disciplines as to their degree of interest or approval of commercialisation and widespread application of their ideas. The interest in commercialisation and widespread application is highest in engineering and biomedical science. It is somewhat lower in physics, chemistry and economics. It is lowest of all in mathematics and humanities. In our universities, one sees plenty of tension between the factions that are enthusiastic about application and commercial success, and the factions that continue to resist the idea that universities should be engaged in those kinds of activities. We see some real tension across the disciplines in this respect.
Q62 Lord Rees of Ludlow: As a follow-up to that, there is a debate in this country about the amount of pure academic research and applied research that should be done in universities as opposed to specially focused government-supported labs. The balance is different in different countries. I would like to ask our speakers about that. Maybe I could start with John Holdren, because I know in particular that his predecessor Steven Chu advocated having more government labs to study aspects of energy and climate. I wonder how you see that balance. I would like to ask Dr Appelbaum the same question.
Dr John Holdren: Let me say that it is great to see you again, Lord Rees. We have been interacting on these issues for some decades now.
Lord Rees of Ludlow: Right, we go back 40 years to Pugwash.
Dr John Holdren: I should offer a small correction. Steve Chu was not my predecessor; he was the Secretary of Energy in the first Obama term while I was the President’s science adviser and OSTP director. We worked very closely together as partners in a great many ventures in the science and technology space.
I shared Steve Chu’s view that the National Laboratories, including those operated for the Department of Energy, are a great national resource and could be put to even better use on a wider variety of national challenges. We also shared the view that entities that advance outside-the-box thinking and investing in high-risk, high-return activities, such as the Defence Advanced Research Products Agency, or DARPA, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, which we invented, have been enormously successful in large part because they have not been failure averse. They have been willing to risk failure in the pursuit of novel ideas. Steve Chu and I really never had any disagreements about the importance of outside-the-box thinking and the National Laboratories, but we also had no disagreements about the importance of engaging the private and academic sectors in partnerships in all these domains.
Lord Rees of Ludlow: You were a very impressive duo in those roles. Could I ask Dr Appelbaum a special question? One thing that you have in Israel is this deal whereby young people can avoid standard military service by working five years in some government lab. I know that this has been a breeding ground for many outstanding high-tech entrepreneurs. I wonder if this is something you would like to tell us a bit about.
Dr Ami Appelbaum: I am not quite sure which lab you refer to, because we do not have government labs. The reason for not having government labs is that we do not see the economic viability or how they can sustain themselves without government funding while we have companies owned by the Government that are primarily related to defence. In the defence forces, we have large development activities that belong to the Government and the ministry of public security.
If the Government, or even the defence industry, want to develop, they point towards the private sector. They are providing grants to the private sector. We in the Israel Innovation Authority keep thinking about the model of Fraunhofer in Germany. They have 30% of grants that they are going after, 30% that the industry is providing and 30% that is funded by the Government. We have failed to create even that so far, primarily because Israel’s economy is not large enough. For industry to support such a national fund, a national or government lab is too small.
All that said, we are driving projects that we have been stimulating for three, four or five years. For example, we have large research on brains and genomics that the Government funded for five years, but we expect that institution we created to go and stand on its own feet and become economically viable, because we believe the private sector in Israel and globally should support it. Last but not least, we are seeing more organisations driven by government that are not the best things to write home about. We try to let the private sector drive those activities.
Q63 Lord Krebs: I would like to ask each of our witnesses the following question. Could you comment from where you sit on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the UK science and technology landscape? On the back of that, I have two supplementary questions. What advice would you give to our Government in developing a new science and technology strategy? Is the Government’s declared ambition to create the UK as a science superpower a positive or a negative, if we wish to collaborate internationally?
Dr John Holdren: Let me first say that I do not feel qualified to talk about weaknesses in the UK system of research and innovation. I regard the UK as a science superpower already. I am not sure that the label is particularly helpful in the international arena, but the reality is that the UK is a bastion of very strong science and, in many domains, very strong innovation.
My only recommendations would relate to the importance of some of the things I have already stressed. In the rapidly changing world that we all inhabit, it is increasingly important to foment partnerships and interdisciplinary collaborations. I learned as an undergraduate at MIT many years ago from fluid dynamics professors that all of the most interesting action is at the boundaries. That is true in a much broader sense. So many of the innovations that are changing the world today are at the intersection of physics, chemistry, engineering, nanotechnology and biotechnology. The grand challenges that we face increasingly require insights from the social sciences and humanities as well. We all need to do more across disciplinary boundaries as we go forward.
Dr Ami Appelbaum: Again, I am too humble to say what the weaknesses of Great Britain’s academia, science and technology are. We have great admiration and a real desire to extend the collaboration. We see especially in recent years that science, technology and innovation are moving on a very fast track. There are probably faster changes than humankind has ever experienced throughout its existence. All this is just going to accelerate and not slow down. Those changes require absolutely mandatory collaborations between people, scientists and Governments. It is not only the science and technology; we cannot exclude regulation today.
Much of the science that we conduct depends heavily on regulation. Just think about privacy. Think about all the health data being generated on one end that is required by technology today and can improve the health of every one of us, especially those in remote places. Think about the privacy and regulation of that. I am not mentioning autonomous cars or artificial intelligence.
We need to collaborate on the research, but also as much on the regulation. I know that the OECD is active on that, but we have to ask for more Government to Government. There is no point in each Government creating their own regulation independently from what the rest of the free world and democracies are doing. We have to join the effort and come up with those regulations jointly because that will enable scientists to not only conduct research, but bring it forward to benefit all human beings.
I would like to call for more collaboration on research, application and implementation, but also on regulations. We are not accustomed to doing it enough.
Dr Marga Gual Soler: I echo my colleagues in acknowledging that the UK was already perceived as a science superpower. It has always been like this. If there is a weakness or area of concern, it relates to the earlier question on the UK’s attractiveness as a partner for other countries to engage with, in light of the growing barriers that we are seeing to mobility. After Brexit, there are more challenges and bureaucracy, for researchers who were in the UK and now have complicated residencies in order to stay and continue doing excellent research in the UK, and in attracting new top-level scientists. I recall that a fast-tracked visa programme for Nobel Prize or award-winning scientists to come to the UK was called for. That did not succeed in attracting many.
This risk around accessing talent and funding might be an area for UK science to focus on in terms of making it easier to build the partnerships and, I hope, access Horizon Europe, because fragmenting the scientific community in the context of global challenges does not make sense. The recommendation is to maintain the scientific linkages with the EU and the rest of the world as easily and fluidly as possible, instead of adding layers of bureaucracy that might end up putting off those excellent talents who would like to continue working in UK science and innovation.
The Chair: Thank you very much to all of our witnesses today for talking to us at all of these different times of day. We very much appreciated having a view from outside the UK; that has been extremely helpful. As I said at the start, feel free to submit additional evidence. Dr Soler, you suggested you might have some evidence that would be useful to us. We would very much appreciate receiving that. For now, thank you very much and goodbye.