How to be a Science Superpower ...

10 ways to 'power-up'

Strategic. We need to concentrate our capabilities. We have, in the UK, potentially the right mechanisms - the recently created National Science and Technology Council and the Office for Science and Technology Strategy - we must use these. We need to focus on convergences and dependencies between technologies and sectors, backing our strategy with resources. We need to take a portfolio approach, recognising risk and taking edgy bets.

Connected. We must build a 'connected science system'. However an idea arises there should be a managed and supported route for it to develop. We need to fund 'pathways' rather than create ever more 'point initiatives'. Problems arise at the gaps between funding agencies and mechanisms with different agendas, these must be aligned. We must eschew simplistic models of pipelines between research and exploitation recognising the complexity of the ways in which science and innovation interplay.

Rebalanced. We will only attain our goals if industry makes significantly expanded contribution. We must openly acknowledge that this is where the problems in the science system principally lie. A high-performing research base cannot substitute for the gap created by the failings of industry. We need to turn our attention to the shortcomings in skills, knowledge, incentives, structures and culture that have created this problem. The balance between the publicly funded research base and the science and technology capability within government also needs to be redressed. In many areas the ability for government to engage with the science system has fallen below the level required to sustain innovation within government and to engage on strategic issues. This has been a long-standing problem, it cannot be allowed to continue.

Global. We need a radical step-up in the UK's global science engagement. This entails building out the UK's 'Science & Innovation Network' with high-calibre, empowered, strategically-oriented science and technology attachés. This has to be supported by a sophisticated 'all-source' global science intelligence function. We also require a highly targeted and agile talent-hunting capability bringing the best researchers and innovators to the UK.

Levelled. Levelling-up is the right thing to do, the economic inequities are stark and must be addressed for reasons of social cohesion. It obviously cannot, and should not, be at the expense of the UK's key Science Superpower asset - its global concentrations in science, innovation and biomedicine in London and around Oxford and Cambridge. We are geographically a small country, we can build and leverage national capabilities and consortia spreading benefits. We can combine local and civic engagement within the UK’s regions and devolved nations with international excellence. It is not either-or.

Protected. Our science system is at the centre of national power in a new geopolitical disposition. It is, in the broadest sense, a national security asset. An open and global science system is not in conflict with high standards of protection and a risk managed approach to collaboration and partnership. We need both.

Trusted. One of the primary characteristics of an effective science system is integrity: ethical standards, methodological rigour, proper governance, transparency and oversight. The UK can pursue a significant competitive advantage by developing a highly trusted science system - only open societies can do this. Our National Academies (the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy et al), who have, over the pandemic, demonstrated what they can contribute, and are an outstanding resource, can play a key leadership role.

Skilled. Our science system relies on the right skills in the right places. Our approach to developing these skills needs attention. Our system depends on a wasteful and long unreformed approach to doctoral education and a precarious 'leaky' system of post-doctoral positions. We need a clear-sighted look at this. We are also training too few of the technicians who are the bedrock on which a science system builds. This problem may soon become acute.

Anchored. Digital modelling and simulation are within the reach of any modestly capable science system. Complex experimental infrastructure - labs and kit - is required to validate these models. There is no way round this. This infrastructure is costly, is demanding of the skills discussed above and must be continuously sustained and enhanced. It does however anchor our science system, conferring significant and persistent advantage to those who own and operate the infrastructure. We need to extend smart investment in our science infrastructure.

Diverse. Diversity is often, and correctly, seen through the lens of social justice. It is however, equally important to look at diversity from the standpoint of talent. There are many ways in which we can lose talent in our system, through the operation of straightforward bias, through unacceptable ways of working, through narrow visions of leadership, through deeply-embedded cultures. Our work on diversity is of a piece with developing as a Science Superpower not an added extra.