For United Kingdom, Advice on Science Advice


A group of scientists and policymakers has released a collection of essays today discussing how the United Kingdom's civil service, Whitehall, can make better use of scientific advice. Release of the essays, Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Whitehall, is timed to coincide with a conference held today at the University of Cambridge's Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP). The meeting included the first major public speech by the United Kingdom's new chief scientific adviser, Mark Walport, who took office on 1 April. Walport, former director of the Wellcome Trust, highlighted the importance of scientific advice in the development and implementation of government policy in his remarks.

The essays originated with a series of seminars developed last summer by a group of five partners, including CSaP, the University of Sussex's Science and Technology Policy Research center, and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills's Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre. Whitehall published its plan for civil service reform last summer as well, and Robert Doubleday, co-editor of the essay collection, says that it was a combination of a new chief science adviser and a renewed interest in government efficiency due to budget constraints that got the ball rolling. "We're looking ahead," Doubleday tells ScienceInsider. With "pressure on public budgets, coming together with new leadership at the top, we have a good opportunity to bring in some fresh thinking about how science advice works and how it should work."

Future Directions includes essays by former Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Robert Watson. Suggestions include making scientific advice available at shorter notice, the appointment of a chief social scientist, better integration of science staff members in policy teams, and for scientists to better understand the process of policymaking and politics.