Government call for science ‘weirdos’ prompts alert from specialists

Specialists have responded with surprise and alert to a bizarrely worded activity ad posted by a senior UK government consultant. The notification calls for researchers, mathematicians and “super-talented weirdos” to work for the prime minister and to help make “rapid progress with long-term problems”, and refers to a few scientific papers.

Specialists, including the authors of a portion of the papers, welcome a focus on information-driven techniques and scientific skills from the top level of government, yet alert against distorting how science is applied to policymaking.

Dominic Cummings, a political strategist who is a chief special consultant to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, posted the advertisement on his website on 2 January. Cummings is known for his strong and sometimes controversial perspectives on science, as well as a ‘, move fast and break things’ methodology that expects to disrupt the status quo. Johnson’s Conservative Party held on to power — and expanded its larger part in Parliament — in a general political election a month ago.

In the 2,900-word advertisement, Cummings says that he is looking for “data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos”, as well as “unusual” mathematicians, physicists and economists, to work in the prime minister’s Downing Street office, which will direct significant policy changes as a feature of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. The post attracted attention for its brash language and odd necessities, for example, that candidates show excitement about a slew of explicit scientific thoughts.

Cummings depicts his arrangement to take an information-driven, computational way to deal with handling the science of forecast and decision-making in government. The advertisement calls for a contender to acquaint themselves with research papers1,2,3,4 in fields, for example, data science and artificial intelligence (see ‘Reading list’) — even though it doesn’t specify the overarching policy goals or societal issues that the government wants to illuminate.

“What Cummings wants seems to be a classic Hollywood scientist, coming in wearing a white coat and telling him what the answer is and saving the day, and it doesn’t work like that,” says Jack Stilgoe, a researcher in science and technology studies at University College London. “The idea you can come up with technological fixes to social problems — we have a century of experience showing how flawed that theory is.”

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Open Headline journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.