Chief Scientist’s four rules (plus one) for convincing MPs

Alan Finkel has sure-fire suggestions so scientists are heard in Canberra. The Chief Scientist spelt put four of them when he launched the Science Meets Parliament lobbying event yesterday.

First: The rules of science apply when talking to politicians. “Every scientist needs to uphold the collective credibility of science by absolute integrity in all our dealings with the media, the community and politicians. Integrity means don’t exaggerate. Integrity means share the bad as well as the good. Integrity means don’t trivialise.”

Second: Accept and learn the conventions and culture of politics. “There are practices: protocols, conventions, expectations and rules. And there are patterns. The political seasons in Canberra are as rhythmic as summer to autumn, winter to spring. Autumn leaves: it’s Budget. Spring blossoms: parliament returns. If you know the patterns, you can till the ground, plant the seed and grow the flowers.”

Third: “Communication is key.” “Communication is not independent of the audience. Otherwise, it’s not communication, it’s just content. Thinking of your audience doesn’t mean changing the content to suit the other person’s worldview. It means explaining where the content fits, in the context of the goals you share. Start not with ‘I want’ but with ‘we can help each other to achieve’. Ignore anyone who tells you that politicians or people in general are incapable of absorbing complex ideas. Not true: they can and they do.”

Fourth: Keep infrastructure on the agenda. “The way to get things done is to identify the priorities and plan the investments.”

It was standard Chief Scientist stuff; engaging and erudite, informed and entertaining – a pleasure to hear with benefits from listening closely – which is what hearing the fifth suggestion required. Dr Finkel did not say “don’t waste a minister’s time by whingeing.” But CMM suspects that is what he meant.  “People tell me that 2017 was a terrible year: the worst year on record” before rattling off six research achievements. “Every one of the above is a result of decades of scientific research. Funded by government, undertaken by scientists. Science met Parliament, and the offspring was progress. And its sibling is potential.”


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