Education And Debate

Research Profile: Developing foresight: an interview with Sir Dai Rees

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 30 July 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:324
  1. R Smith
  1. British Medical Journal, London WC1H 9JR.

    One of the centrepieces of the British government's strategy for science is a process called technology foresight. Sir Dai Rees, chief executive of the MRC, is a member of the steering group charged with developing foresight. Richard Smith asked him about the subject.

    RS: What is technology foresight?

    DR: It's an attempt to consider possible future relations between science and technology and the needs of society and industry. So, for example, in health we know that we will have an aging population and we fear the development of more microorganisms resistant to antibiotics. These are challenges both for health care services and for industry. We look at issues like that alongside information on how science is likely to develop and see whether science might help us with the problems. We can then plan our research activities to make it more likely that we will get the outcomes we want.

    The government is interested because this may be a way of improving the industrial competitiveness of Britain.

    RS: Where did the idea come from?

    DR: It has a Japanese origin. The whole world looks at the Japanese economic miracle with envy and asks how they did it. There are many examples of them seeing before others what to do with science - for example, with liquid crystal displays, which were discovered in Britain. And technology foresight seems to have been one of the things that allowed the Japanese to be so prescient and forward looking.

    The Dutch and the Germans followed, but in the Thatcher years Britain was not interested. She believed that it was no job of government to try to pick winners in science and technology. While we agree we should not pick winners, we do now believe that it makes sense for those who follow social and market …

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