Invert the order! Government’s role in shaping a science superpower

A RoRI seminar by James Phillips, former No.10 science adviser


What is required for the UK to stay at the cutting edge of science and technology and make harnessing its benefits our national purpose? And what role does the government have in that?

Former special adviser on Science & Technology to the UK Prime Minister, James Phillips, reflects on his experiences at the nerve centre of UK research and innovation policy. 

James argues that there are opportunities and pitfalls that arise from government bureaucracies taking greater interest in S&T. He outlines priorities for a reform agenda over the next decade, drawing upon his experiences in Number Ten, as a research scientist, and as a co-author of the recent Tony Blair-William Hague report ‘A New National Purpose’

James also outlines a provocative recent paper he co-authored with Paul Nightingale, which argues that the UK is falling behind the cutting edge in some crucial areas of science. Finally, he explores how the metascience community could support and advance a new national purpose in science and technology. 

Read James Phillips’ article which accompanies this talk on Substack here.


The Speaker

James Phillips is a former special adviser on science and technology to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson; one of the ‘weirdos and misfits’ hired to work in Number Ten. He worked on setting up ARIA, which he had called for with others in a 2018 Telegraph op-ed. He also helped to drive rapid lateral flow testing in government, including being part of the team that published the first modelling of rapid testing in April 2020. Prior to government, he worked at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus and did a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, where he was awarded the British Neuroscience Association’s graduate thesis of the year award. He is currently an honorary senior research fellow at UCL’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL-STEaPP). He blogs at