Julian Huppert

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Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010 until 2015.

Huppert gained a PhD in biological chemistry before becoming a research scientist at Cambridge University[1].

Dr Huppert did a Reddit AMA in June 2014: http://www.reddit.com/r/UKPoliticsAMA/comments/28yf6w/im_julian_huppert_lib_dem_mp_for_cambridge_ama/

Dr Huppert is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society[2].

Biographical Background

The son of two academics (his father is the Australian-born geophysicist Herbert Huppert), Huppert has lived in Cambridge since he was a small child. Having attended The Perse School in the city, Huppert went on to study at Cambridge University, completing a BA (2000) and then a PhD (2005) in Biological Chemistry at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was elected a Junior Research Fellow of Trinity in 2004, and became a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge in 2009 (the College at which the previous Liberal Democrat MP for the city, David Howarth, was a member). He is also a Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (MRSC) and the Institute of Physics (MInstP). He worked as a research scientist studying the structures of DNA as well as tutoring students.[3]

Evidence-Based Policy

In a March 2010 guest blog-post for the Campaign for Science and Engineering titled "What do scientists and engineers bring to politics?"[4], Huppert talks about the use of the scientific method in policy decisions:

The ability to use this is not restricted to those professionally trained in the area, but is more common. This approach means thinking about evidence and data to make decisions. For example, there is increased interest in the criminal justice field about a technique known as restorative justice, where victims are given the chance to confront offenders after minor crimes – so that the offender realises what impact their offence has had.
Research shows that this is much more effective at reducing future criminality than traditional punishment, is much cheaper, and is preferred by the victims. Any decision about what to do must be informed by such results.
This is of course, not to deny the role of values and principles – data gives factual information, but the relative weightings of different issues require a political process. But I would argue throughout for evidence-based policy, not spin-based policy or policy-based evidence. More scientists and engineers are needed in Parliament to deliver this.

Statistics and Policy

In July 2010, Huppert proposed Early Day Motion 461: Making Sense of Statistics Publication[5]. The motion stated:

"That this House recognises the importance of the appropriate use of statistics in policy-making and in public discourse; further recognises that parliamentarians and other policymakers should be able to identify key statistical concepts, seek to avoid making obvious errors in interpretation and identify the key questions to ask when presented with data and statistical analysis; welcomes the recently published guide Making Sense of Statistics produced by Sense About Science and Straight Statistics in collaboration with the Royal Statistical Society; and appreciates the initiative of the circulation by Sense about Science of this guide to all hon. Members."

Scientific Literacy of MPs

In August 2010 Huppert was interviewed for the Pod Delusion podcast[6] and was asked why he thought that scientific illiteracy in MPs was a problem. He responded:

"... it's not so much that you need people with a PhD in science, that's not essential. It's people who are interested enough, and understand enough about science, to make sensible decisions, to listen to the evidence, understand what the issues are. What we expect from our MPs is not that they're experts in all these things, but they understand enough to talk to experts and to be sensible."

In the same interview he also talked about applying the scientific method more widely to policy.

University Tuition Fees

In December 2010 Julian Huppert voted against increasing the upper limit on university tuition fees from £3290 per year to £9000 per year[7]. The proposed increase was a response to the Browne Report, published in October of that year, which had proposed a complete removal of any upper limit on fees, together with other measures (largely adopted by the coalition government) to ease the burden of repayment.

Science Policy

Dr Huppert was author of the July 2012 Liberal Democrat Policies for science and research document: http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/docs/policy/SciencePolicy.pdf

Dr Huppert was a panellist in a March 2015 debate on Science and the General Election: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmo3Qe0ndcI

Dr Huppert was interviewed by British Science Association in April 2015 in his role as Liberal Democrat Party spokesperson for science: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxjlAUvbGKk

Funding

In September 2010, in the context of potential cuts to science in the coalition government's forthcoming spending review, Julian Huppert proposed Early Day Motion 767: Science is Vital Campaign. The motion stated that the house "believes that continued investment in research is vital in order to meet the technological and social challenges of the 21st century, and to continue to attract high-tech industries to invest here; further believes that large cuts to science funding are a false economy, due to evidence that research investment fuels economic growth". It made specific references to the work of the Science is Vital coalition and the Campaign for Science and Engineering.[8]

Candidate Survey

Dr Huppert responded to the 2010 General Election Candidate Survey.

1. Do you support the use of NHS money to provide unproven health products such as homeopathy?

  • NHS money should not be used to support products such as homeopathy, for which there is not a jot of evidence.

2. Should schools be allowed to teach creationism as an equivalent theory to evolution?

  • No. Creationism isn't an equivalent theory, in that it doesn't provide testable hypotheses.

3. Do you believe that religious belief should be legally protected from ridicule?

  • I would repeal the blasphemy laws; religious belief should not have extra protection above other beliefs.

4. Should an independent government adviser whose views in their area of expertise conflict with government policy be able to express those views publicly?

  • Yes they should. It is absolutely fine for government policy not to be entirely in accord with the views of an independent expert - decisions involve value judgements that are not simply evidence-based - but the expert should not be silenced.

5. Should religious courts such as Sharia and Beth Din be recognised as alternative systems within UK law?

  • I can see no reason why any group of consenting adults cannot chose to be bound by any additional sets of rules, as long as these are in accordance with UK law. This applies whether the rules agreed are religions or not.

6. Do you agree that testing on animals (within strict criteria) is a necessary part of the development of medicines?

  • Currently, animal testing is indeed necessary, and within the criteria and given sufficient evidence of benefit should continue. However, we must also accept that animal testing is fundamentally a thing to be avoided, and further research is needed into alternatives, such as 'human-on-a-chip' and computational methods.

7. Should policy-makers trust scientific evidence even when it appears counter-intuitive?

  • Ideally, policymakers would have sufficient understanding of science and the scientific method to be able to interpret for themselves how reliable a piece of evidence is. Some evidence is counter-intuitive, but right; some is counter-intuitive and wrong. There is still a place for a Bayesian prior!

8. Do you think that abortion time limits should always be determined by the current scientific and medical consensus?

  • I don't think this is a well-defined question; science and medicine cannot alone determine a time limit, as there is no sudden change that happens at a certain fixed time. However, such methods should play a strong role in informing about the decision to be made. I can not see a strong argument now for changing the time limit.

9. Should religious leaders be entitled to vote in the House of Lords?

  • The House of Lords should be fully elected; religions leaders would be perfectly at liberty to stand for election! As an intermediate stage, I would remove the Bishops from sitting in the Lords as of right.

10. Do you support the reform of English and Welsh libel law to allow a stronger 'public interest' defence?

  • Emphatically yes.

Health

Homeopathy

In June 2010, MP David Tredinnick proposed four Early Day Motions in support of homeopathy: EDM 284, EDM 285, EDM 286 and EDM 287. With the help of investigating skeptics and Evan Harris, Huppert drafted and proposed amendments to each one, the amended EDMs being critical of homeopathy and its use in the NHS. In the case of the last three motions, each of which referenced a specific cherry-picked scientific paper, Huppert's amended motions outlined a number of serious flaws in the papers.[9][10][11][12]

In July 2010, Huppert wrote a short article on homeopathy for ePolitix.com[13] in which he stated:

"In light of what we know about homeopathy - namely, that it is ineffective beyond placebo - it is simply wrong for the NHS to continue spending on homeopathic treatments."

Abortion

In September 2011, Parliament debated Health and Social Care Bill amendments from Nadine Dorries and Frank Field which aimed to prevent abortion service providers from also providing counselling. Abortion rights campaigners feared that groups with an anti-abortion agenda would step in to provide the counselling service previously provided by organisations such as Marie Stopes. In this context, Huppert proposed the following amendment:

"... all organisations offering information or advice in relation to unplanned pregnancy choices must follow current evidence-based guidance produced by a professional medical organisation specified by the Secretary of State."[14]

Mitochondrial Donation

In February 2015 Julian Huppert voted in favour of allowing mitochondrial donation, which would allow women who carried mitochondrial diseases to have genetically related children who would not inherit the disease[15]. An October 2014 briefing report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which had been investigating the issue for three years, stated that there was no evidence to show that mitochondrial donation was unsafe[16]. However, some religious groups had said that such procedures should not be allowed[17]. After clearing both Houses mitochondrial donation is now legal, regulated by the HFEA.

Hidden Pharmaceutical Trial Data

In December 2012 Dr Huppert was one of six MPs to write a joint letter to the Public Accounts Committee to request action on hidden trial data and specifically Tamiflu.[18]

Medical Innovation ("Saatchi") Bill

On 9th December 2014 Dr Huppert spoke in an adjournment debate on the Medical Innovation Bill, giving his opinion that "The Bill would open the door for all sorts of quacks who will do serious harm in the name of medical innovation". The whole debate can be read at Hansard or TheyWorkForYou.com.

Government Surveillance

After losing his Cambridge seat in the 2015 general election Dr Huppert continued to write on the issue of government surveillance. He wrote an August 2015 article on Clause 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984, and a September 2015 article on the problems with "backdoor" systems.

Religion

Julian Huppert was elected as a vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) in June or July 2010[19][20].

In July 2010 Huppert proposed Early Day Motion 395: Collective Worship[21] which stated:

That this House notes the Government's wish to free schools from prescriptive legal regimes; further notes the fact that the law still requires maintained schools to hold a daily act of collective worship wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character and that teachers and others have repeatedly opposed this provision; further notes the diversity of society and rights to freedom of conscience, thought and belief as protected in domestic law; at the same time notes the educational value of inclusive school assemblies and their role in supporting shared values and the school community and ethos; and calls on the Government to repeal the requirement for compulsory worship in schools and to encourage schools to hold educational assemblies that will include all children.

Academies Bill

Julian Huppert tabled amendments 42, 43 and 44 to the Academies Bill 2010. The bill was concerned with allowing more state-funded schools in England to become "academies", still publicly-funded but with a greater degree of autonomy in areas such as budget and curriculum[22]. Amendments 42 and 43 were concerned with eliminating or reducing the degree to which faith schools' admission policy could discriminate on the grounds of religion. Amendment 44 clarified that non-faith schools would by default become non-faith academies, but also introduced the option for faith schools to drop their faith status on becoming an academy, should they so wish.

Huppert spoke on these amendments in the Commons on 21st July 2010[23][24]

Drugs Policy

In December 2010, Julian Huppert proposed Early Day Motion 1148: Scientific Expertise on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The motion stated:

That this House expresses its concern that the proposed changes in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to the membership of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs remove the requirement to have any members on the Council with specific scientific knowledge; recognises the importance of evidence-based policy making, especially in the area of drugs policy; and requests that the Government brings forward amendments to the Bill to ensure that a reasonable proportion of the members of the Council have relevant scientific experience.[25]

In November 2011 he co-authored an opinion article in the Guardian advocating an evidence-based approach and stating that "...it is of great concern that our government is continuing with a predominantly criminal justice approach that simply does not work." http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/17/british-drug-policy

In July 2013, following the announcement that the Home Secretary would classify khat as a Class C drug, despite advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to not criminalise it[26], Dr Huppert tweeted several times on the subject, including:

"Very disappointed Theresa May decided to ban Khat, against ACMD advice. V poor decision & precedent. Her choice; we couldn't stop it"[27]

In October 2014 Dr Huppert co-authored an article on drugs policy with Caroline Lucas for the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/julian-huppert/drug-policy-caroline-lucas-julian-huppert_b_6069420.html

They wrote:

Yes, drugs can be harmful - whether they are legal or illegal. But we should focus on reducing the harms done, not continue with policies based on hard-line posturing and which have repeatedly failed to protect British citizens.
That is why we are leading a debate in Parliament today to argue for an evidence-based approach. Starting with a move away from punitive sanctions towards a new preventative, health-based system.

Evolution and Creationism

In June 2010, Julian Huppert proposed EDM 243: Science Education in Schools, which stated:

That this House notes the value and importance of science in the schools' curriculum; further notes the importance of the specific inclusion of evolution and natural selection in the schools' curriculum; regrets that evolution has been dropped from reforms to the primary school curriculum, along with other reforms proposed; further regrets the inclusion of creationist and other pseudo-scientific theories in the teaching of science in some schools; and urges the Government to ensure that all schools teach and promote science and the scientific method and to include the theory of evolution in the science curriculum at both primary and secondary levels.[28]

In February 2011, Huppert asked a Parliamentary question on the teaching of creationism and evolution in free schools:

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what his policy is on (a) ensuring that free schools are not permitted to teach creationism outside the religious education curriculum and (b) requiring evolution to be taught as a science in such schools.[29][30]

Libel Reform

(See also candidate survey response, Q.10)

In June 2012, shortly after the second reading of the Defamation Bill, Dr Huppert published a blog post on the bill: http://www.libdemvoice.org/julian-huppert-mp-writes-libel-reform-is-an-admirable-prize-for-liberal-democrats-29084.html

In March 2013, when there were fears that the Defamation Bill would be dropped due to a Leveson Report-inspired amendment introduced in the House of Lords, Dr Huppert retweeted a number of comments that were in favour of removing the amendment in order to save the bill. (This was not necessarily an indication of being against Leveson, merely that the amendment in question was not appropriate in this particular bill.) Examples: https://twitter.com/markgfh/status/308636313719021568 https://twitter.com/senseaboutsci/status/308630559964405760 https://twitter.com/DavidAllenGreen/status/308640477383634944

Same-Sex Marriage

Julian Huppert voted in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at both its second reading in February 2013[31] and its third reading in May 2013[32].

Climate Change

Julian Huppert was a listed member of the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group whose purpose is "To raise awareness of the threat of climate change and to promote policies to counter that threat".[33]

References

  1. http://www.julianhuppert.org.uk/content/about-julian
  2. http://www.secularism.org.uk/honoraryassociates.html
  3. University of Cambridge: Dr Julian Huppert: Research Councils UK Academic Fellow in Computational Biology: Biophysics and Bioinformatics of Nucleic Acids
  4. http://blog.sciencecampaign.org.uk/?p=861
  5. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/461
  6. http://poddelusion.co.uk/blog/2010/09/02/episode-49-3rd-september-2010/
  7. http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2010-12-09&number=150&mpn=Julian_Huppert
  8. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/767
  9. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/284#284A1
  10. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/285#285A1
  11. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/286#286A1
  12. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/287#287A1
  13. http://www.epolitix.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/prescibing-homeopathy-is-unethical/
  14. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2010-2012/0221/amend/pbc2210709m.3161-3167.html
  15. http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2015-02-03&number=147&mpn=Julian_Huppert
  16. http://www.hfea.gov.uk/docs/2014-10-01_Mitochondrial_donation__an_introductory_briefing_note_-_final.pdf
  17. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31063500
  18. http://www.badscience.net/2012/12/mps-write-to-public-accounts-committee-to-request-action-on-hidden-trials-and-tamiflu/
  19. http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/588
  20. http://www.humanism.org.uk/about/apphg
  21. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/395
  22. http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/academieshl.html
  23. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100721/debtext/100721-0003.htm#10072143000224
  24. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2010-07-21a.379.3#g435.0
  25. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/1148
  26. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/144120/report-2013.pdf
  27. https://twitter.com/julianhuppert/status/352380072688230401
  28. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-11/243
  29. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110322/text/110322w0007.htm#11032322000064
  30. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2011-03-22a.39598.h
  31. http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2013-02-05&number=151&mpn=Julian_Huppert
  32. http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2013-05-21&number=11&mpn=Julian_Huppert
  33. https://web.archive.org/web/20150502061628/http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/climate-change.htm

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