Welcome to In Verba, the Royal Society’s new science policy blog. Its title is drawn from the Society’s motto – ‘nullius in verba’ – perhaps best translated as ‘take nobody’s word for it’. This motto dates back to 1663, and reflects the determination of our founding Fellows to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.
Three and a half centuries later, this motto holds firm in the world of science, where credibility rests on external validation and peer review, rather than presumed authority or personal charisma. In the policy world, however, science doesn’t always speak for itself, and often benefits from a degree of translation.
I’ve recently finished reading a new collection of essays by Steven Shapin, the Harvard historian of science, with the provocative title of ‘Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority’. Shapin provides a vivid account of how Boyle, Hooke and other early Fellows established the Royal Society as a ‘house of experiment’ in 17th Century London.
Today, the scientific work of our Fellows takes place far outside the Society’s London premises: in universities, institutes and corporate R&D labs the world over. But the Society is still the site for a variety of experiments: many of them at the boundaries between science, policy and decision-making.
This is where the Society’s Science Policy Centre comes in. By drawing on the expertise of our Fellows and other experts, we aim to draw the latest science and most robust evidence into policy processes. We work to bring scientists into closer contact with politicians and policy makers. And we try to spark wider public debate about the issues that scientists think are important.
This blog is also something of an experiment. We hope it will provide a window into our policy work, and an opportunity to test and share ideas as they are taking shape. We’ll be inviting Fellows, staff and others to share their thoughts over the coming months. We’d also welcome your feedback at http://royalsociety.org/contact-us/.
James Wilsdon, Director, Royal Society Science Policy Centre