Put science at heart of global policymaking, advisers urge

Published on Monday, 01 September 2014 10:37
Written by Daniel Mason

Science advisers to governments have called for strengthened international collaboration to share best practice in the face of increasingly global challenges.

A summit in Auckland, New Zealand last week - which brought together 200 participants from more than 40 countries - emphasised the growing importance of robust and credible science in policymaking.

Steven Wilson, executive director of the International Council for Science, said he was "thrilled that the practitioners working at this critical interface are strengthening their ties to build the practice and learn from each other".

"Many governments around the world have recognised the need to inform their policy decisions with the best knowledge available," he said.

New Zealand's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, who convened the conference, said there was a "real thirst among practitioners to share models and lessons".

He added: "Our goal was to start a global conversation on the practices and challenges of conveying science advice to government."

"As brokers of knowledge, science advice practitioners aim to communicate what is known and what is not known in such a way as to assist decision makers in balancing evidence, social values and other imperatives in the policy process.

"This is no small task, particularly in contentious areas of policy, where the public concern is high and the science is inevitably uncertain."

Gluckman will now chair the development of a more formal network of science advisers supported by an expanded organising committee.

Romain Murenzi, executive director of the World Academy of Science - which represents academies in the developing world - also spoke at the summit.

He said: "We need to get to a place where the science culture is pervasive and where we can truly say there is scientifically literate society. The role of science advice to government plays a big role in this."

Meanwhile Anne Glover, science adviser to the outgoing president of the European commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said there was no point in governments and international institutions having chief science advisers if they did not take advantage of them.

"The diversity of cultural approaches to science advice cannot be underestimated, and one size does not fit all. Without networks that connect practitioners of science advice, we are missing something," she said.

Ahead of the conference, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, said science advice to policymakers "needs to become much more international in its outlook".

In an article in the Guardian, he wrote: "Ebola infections, wars in the Middle East, an erupting volcano in Iceland - a glance at newspaper headlines in London last week shows how important issues requiring policy decisions are not constrained by national borders.

"However, the science advisory systems that help policymakers are predominantly national, matching the basic structure of democratic mandates."

He added: "The need for scientists and policymakers to work together around the world has never been greater. Science needs to become a much more important component of diplomacy and foreign relations between nations."

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