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Do scientists make the best science ministers?

Does it matter that Jo Johnson has a history degree? Graeme Reid looks for clues in the records of his predecessors.

“Good heavens! I don’t think he knows anything about science,” Stanley Johnson said on hearing that his son Jo had been appointed minister for universities and science after the 2015 general election. Politicians are put in charge of defence, foreign affairs and the economy without previous careers in these fields. Should science be treated differently? Should science ministers be experts in science? And if not, what characteristics should we ask for in a science minister?

Looking back at the past 25 years, the model for a science minister is elusive. In that period, at least 11 ministers in five government departments have had science as part of their headline responsibilities. Many have overseen other areas too: defence procurement; cities; universities; the Duchy of Lancaster; and business innovation. Science has been interpreted widely, covering the full span of academia, including the arts and humanities.

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