Anne Glover, Rumored E.U. Science Advisor, Wins Praise at Home

Scottish Government

Rumors have been circling the past week that the European Commission is about to appoint Scottish microbiologist Anne Glover as its first science adviser, and yesterday, Nature felt confident enough to report the impending appointment.

Both Glover—currently chief scientific adviser to the Scottish government—and a spokesperson for the European Commission declined to confirm the story. Few people outside Scotland have ever heard of Glover, but those who know her say that she would be a terrific choice. "If it's true, then that's a fantastic appointment," says Ian Diamond, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, where Glover has worked for most of her career.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso first announced his plan to hire a high-profile science adviser—akin to similar posts at the White House and in the British government—in a speech in 2009 , but the actual appointment has been delayed several times. In the new post, Glover would report directly to Barroso; her salary reportedly would be close to €200,000.

Glover became Scotland's first chief scientific adviser in 2006; her term expires next month. "She has done an absolutely amazing job," says Diamond, who says Glover raised the visibility of Scottish science in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and increased the role of scientific evidence in the policy-making process.

As an unfailingly enthusiastic voice for science, Glover has become a well-known figure in Scotland, says Marian Scott, an environmental statistician at the University of Glasgow and a member of the Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC), a 17-member group Glover co-chairs. She's a very effective science communicator, says Scott—whether it's among senior politicians, at science festivals or in Scottish classrooms. "She's a very attractive woman and when she introduces herself, children often react like ... 'My goodness, here's this glamorous woman telling us science is really good!' " says Scott.

Glover's own research has focused on microbiological diversity and the development of so-called biosensors, microbes that can report the presence of certain environmental contaminants by glowing in the dark. While seconded to the Scottish government for 4 days a week, she has kept her research group at the university, but a PubMed search shows that her scientific output has slowed down to a trickle since 2006.

"She has done a couple of spin-out companies, but I don't think she would consider herself an entrepreneur," says SSAC co-chair and high-tech entrepreneur Ian Ritchie. Still, "she is very attuned to the world of business," says Ritchie. That could be an asset at the European Commission, which is betting heavily on research and innovation as a way to reinvigorate Europe's economy.

Glover, who traveled to Brussels last week, told ScienceInsider in an e-mail that "I cannot confirm any appointment" but did nothing to deny the story. A spokesperson for Barroso says he won't comment, but that an announcement will be made in the next few weeks. One European science administrator says Barroso plans to introduce Glover at the European Commission's first Innovation Convention, a high-profile event in Brussels on 5 and 6 December featuring science policy experts, business leaders, and scientists including geneticist Richard Dawkins and 2010 physics Nobelist André Geim.

In Scotland meanwhile, "she's gong to be a very difficult act to follow," says Ritchie.