Alcohol and cancer: As a group 1 carcinogen, alcohol has been proven to increase the risk of 8 of the 20 most common cancers, including breast, bowel and pancreatic. However, most of the public remain unaware of this, mistakenly believing that low level drinking is ‘risk free’. This could be addressed by education campaigns or introducing minimum unit prices.
Household food security: just over 10 % of the UK population is estimated it be in food insecurity, a situation exacerbated by austerity measures such as benefit cuts, reduced real wages and rising fuel costs. The government response has been highly inadequate, causing increasing reliance on food banks and other charitable institutions. This situation urgently needs a central monitoring system and long term strategies for change.
Automation in healthcare: Automation has great potential for reducing the burden of an aging population on the NHS. This goes beyond administration and includes diagnostics, surgery and even caregiving. But this has various ethical implications for the workforce, patient mental health and medical accountability.
Cyber security and critical national infrastructure: As we move increasingly towards an 'internet of things' with more and more devices connected to the Internet, the opportunities for cyber hackers will only increase. This is a concern, particularly as many of our existing security systems are intertwined with Europe. How Brexit will affect this is currently unclear.
Benefits of urban tress: Urban trees have countless benefits, which scientific studies are staring to quantify. These include improved physical and mental wellbeing; temperature regulation; flood defences and even increased property values. However urban design has to incorporate trees from the start for their advantages to be truly effective.
Costs of electricity generation: With coal scheduled to be phased out completely by 2025 in the UK, we urgently need to invest in infrastructure for other energy sources. Although many of the alternatives to coal carry fewer costs in terms of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, other considerations remain, including radioactive waste (especially from nuclear fuels) and aesthetics.
Hidden costs to the NHS: As a complex organisation with many different budgets, the NHS carries many financial costs outside of direct care. These include legal fees, health tourism and maintaining estates. Whilst these could offer potential areas to save money, policy makers should be aware that cutting preventative care measures could have the opposite effect by increasing the care burden.
This growing need catalysed the birth of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), of which James is one of the founding members. This provides “a forum for policy makers, practitioners, academies, and academics to share experience, build capacity and develop theoretical and practical approaches to the use of scientific evidence in informing policy at all levels of government”. To achieve this, INGSA hosts training workshops to help scientists find their voice in the public arena. Since being founded in 2014, INGSA has grown rapidly, with over 650 delegates attending the last summit. “This isn’t a club for the Sir Mark Walports of this world but for those early career scientists who are starting to engage and will be running science policy interfaces in the future” James stressed.
And with that, it was time to reveal the winners of the POSTnote competition:
1st place: Alcohol and Cancer
2nd place: Household Food Security
3rd place: Cyberspace and Critical National Infrastructure
And despite our increased awareness of the dangerous effects of alcohol, we still enjoyed the wine reception afterwards!