On July 1st 2020, the British Science Association hosted the Huxley Summit Half-time Review, featuring a panel of experts from science, business, policy and the media. The event was presented by Samira Ahmed (journalist and broadcaster), asking a stellar panel to reflect on their stand-out moment from first six months of the year and share their call to action for the rest of 2020.

With the world reeling from the Coronavirus crisis, 2020 has seen science and scientists at the forefront of media and public attention more than almost any other time in recent memory. This unprecedented time for public health and public policy has shone a spotlight on the interconnectedness between science and other areas of society – from the economy to education and social care.

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Alison Martin
Chief Executive EMEA, Zurich Insurance

Alison Martin shares her stand-out moment, the tale of two 38’s

Stand-out moment: The tale of two ’38’s’, the highest ever recorded temperature in the Arctic Circle (38°C) and the lowest oil price on record (-$38).

On the 28th of June this year, an unprecedented heatwave spread across Northern Russia, producing the highest ever recorded temperature in the Arctic Circle, 38°C. Over the past 30 years, the Arctic has warmed at a rate double to the rest of the world and has already increased more than 2°C since the 1970’s alone. This is yet another flashing, red warning sign of the existing and future immense impacts because of the global climate crisis.

Which brings us to Alison’s next ‘38’, where 2020 saw the oil market’s fragility, previously rocked by geopolitical tensions, exacerbated by the hit of COVID-19. During the COVID-19 crisis, a drop in the demand for fossil fuels meant the US benchmark West Texas Intermediate Crude price reached an all-time low in April at almost-$38 (-$37.63). Although the low price has not remained, demand for fossil fuels has continued to remain relatively low as renewable energy in many places, not least the UK, is cheaper to use than the coal-fired stations.

Call to action: Society to take action now on tackling climate change

All business leaders, governments and society at large should commit to both individual and collective actions – not words, that will limit global warming to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level. These commitments should be at the forefront of decisions regarding where the billions of stimulus to support the rapid transformation of industries after COVID-19 should go.

The sad reality is that a pandemic like COVID-19 was well articulated long before this crisis. It was hard to galvanise any policy action, which at the time was considered to be a tail risk. Thus, we need to listen to the evidence of climate change and act now.


Sir David King
Former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Chair, Independent SAGE

David King shares his 2020 key moment

Stand-out moment: A publication on COVID-19 was released on the 23rd of January this year, yet despite the early warning signs, the UK still failed to respond soon enough.

On January 23rd of this year, the Lancet, a British Journal published a report written by a group of Chinese scientists. This report explained in fine detail every aspect of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Considering that in 2006, Britain led the way in producing a report written by 340 globally relevant scientists looking at the potential of a future pandemic, they should have been prepared. However, despite the early warning signs, the lack of plans in place after the austerity budget in 2010, meant that on the 23rd of January, with its plethora of medical knowledge and epidemiological advisors, the UK was unable to respond accordingly.

Countries such as Greece, responding much sooner with less than 200 COVID-19 related deaths, provides a shocking demonstration of what happens when we ignore our own capability in science.

Call to action: Take notice of the early warning signs science has given us and not ignore our own capabilities.

Humanity must learn to take notice of the early warning signs science has provided, prevalently considering topics such as Climate change or COVID-19 for example, and not ignore our own capability in science. Government priorities must focus, and we must encourage the Government to focus on, getting to the point of no new cases of COVID-19 in the UK before the end of September 2020. And secondly, the Government must focus on a straightforward, green recovery as we emerge from the pandemic. As it is, the future of the UK’s investment is looking poverty-stricken.

Professor Laura Serrant
Professor of Nursing and global inclusion expert

Laura Serrant shares her 2020 stand out moment

Stand-out moment: The World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring 2020 as the “International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife”, amongst the top-ranking professions to help us achieve health equity for all.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced late last year that 2020 was going to be the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to drive towards sustainable development goals, with nursing and midwifery being announced the number 1 key profession to help us achieve health equity for all. Pandemics reveal the areas of our society that we have not paid much attention to, whether that’s through the experiences of individual people or how our organisations and businesses are able to address the needs of a diverse workforce and client base. We’ve particularly seen this when witnessing the high numbers of disproportionate deaths amongst minority ethnic healthcare workers as a result of COVID-19. The question this raises is, in these quiet, isolated times, how can we start to listen to these parts of society? Our science has counted how many minority ethnic staff have been affected disproportionately by this virus but what the science has not allowed us to do, is answer the ‘so what?’ question. What do we need to do next in our businesses, organisations and in wider society so that when the next pandemic hits, we’re not looking at the same silent voices and the same high level of impact on marginalised people and communities?

Call to action: To question what COVID-19 has revealed about your business, organisation or science, and use that to frame the action of what you need to do to reduce the high level of impact on marginalised people and communities.

The enforced quiet of isolation as a result of COVID-19 has revealed the silent voices around inequality and asks us to question how ethical is our science, business, and society? What has this period of silence revealed about your business, organisation or science, and use that to frame the action of what you need to do. Where are your silences? What are they telling you? What are they asking you to do?

Matthew Ryder QC
Barrister and former Deputy Mayor of London for Social Integration

Matthew Ryder shares his key moment from 2020

Stand-out moment: George Floyd’s murder and the example of how companies and scientists can take action when their products are at risk of exacerbating discrimination and bias.

On the 5th of May 2020, a video had emerged of a black man named Ahmaud Arbery being killed whilst out jogging. It was only three weeks later, on the 25th of May, that we saw another video emerge of a white officer killing another black man named George Floyd, after kneeling on his neck for several minutes, sparking global activism and concern worldwide. The reason the impact of George’s death had been so profound is if he did not die from this incident, had he simply been injured, we probably would never have learnt his name. Secondly, if nobody caught it on video, similarly nothing would have happened. The modern context of us seeing a video, being able to vividly witness the kind of brutality and discrimination that has unfortunately existed for many years, is an important aspect of the times we are living in.

On June 8th 2020, IBM announced it would no longer be supporting police forces using its facial recognition technology. On the 10th of June, Amazon followed suit, joined by Microsoft Office on the 11th June, putting a moratorium on the use of their facial recognition technology by police until there had been proper regulation. This is an important example of how companies and scientists can act when their products are at risk of exacerbating discrimination and bias. This forward-thinking should extend out to science and public policy as companies and governments utilise new forms of technology in policing and other public activity.

Call to action: Committing to a single action to confront discrimination within your own industry.

For every sector, use this moment to confront discrimination that is inherent within your own industry. This does not mean simply discuss, but for each individual or organisation to commit to a single action by the end of the year. Examples like IBM may not be enough in the long term, but they highlight the importance of a specific action carried out in response to the concerns raised by the killing of George Floyd.

If you’re unsure about your action, the ‘pipeline promise’ is something every industry can do. When you are unable to improve the diversity of your workforce because the pool of recruitment is not diverse enough, every year that you do not recruit, you commit to funding the pipeline. This is done by contributing to an organisation that builds that pipeline – recruit or fund it. Thus, every year you will be making a change to that pipeline.  

Juergen Maier
Chair, Digital Catapult, Former CEO, Siemens UK

Jeurgen Maier speaks at the Half-time Review

Stand-out moment: Boris Johnson’s new deal, a seemingly missed opportunity to create long-term prosperity through an industrial strategy.

Whilst we are in the midst of a global crisis, there is also scope for opportunity. The opportunity to create long-term prosperity through an industrial strategy, in anticipation of the billions that will be spent to help our economy recover. The old principle of free-market economies that we have known for the past 30 years is no longer, as we proceed to intervene in such a significant way. Our governments should aim to make this hugely strategic by channelling that intervention money into only supporting the future industries that we want to create prosperity for our nation, such as renewable energy.

A contrast in announcements over the past few days, with a seemingly failed strategic plan in Boris Johnson’s new deal (30 June 2020) and a pledge by the UK government to invest £300 million more into Research and Development (1 July 2020), brings questions to how the future of the UK will unfold.

Call to action: Leadership from government, industry, and science to invest in the future of the UK.

Countries such as Germany and France are investing heavily into future industries such as their hydrogen economies (Germany, €7 billion) and supporting their hybrid and electric car evolution (France, €8 billion). These are the types of industries the UK should be focusing its R&D, science, and technology into, ultimately scaling up it's manufacturing as we go forward.

We must also look towards leaders in industry and science to invest in our people, their skills, and prepare for the new economy. Initiatives in the private sector such as ‘Made Smarter’ geared towards making the current pockets of digital technological adoption into a broader movement, should be prioritised to help chosen sectors.

The full discussion from the Huxley Summit half-time review can be found below. 

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