SCIENCE AND POLICY – A CRUCIAL RELATIONSHIP
1) Science is a fundamental pillar of the knowledge-based society. Science provides innovation, technological development, and ultimately benefits to humanity. Science is also a value per se, expanding the frontiers of knowledge and should not only be judged in economic terms.
2) Science can help make better policies. In an ever more complex and globalised economy and society, its importance is growing. Yet, it is just one element in decision-making. Governmental decisions are ultimately political. Contrary to scientists, policy-makers are elected, which gives them the right (and the duty) to take decisions.
3) The dialogue between science and policy is not straight forward. Policy-makers have multiple sources of solicited and unsolicited advice, thus science does not speak with one voice. Scientific evidence is not always welcomed by policy-makers, which can lead to it being ignored or distorted.
WHAT WE EXPECT FROM THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY
4) Science must be independent and transparent. Vested interests must be disclosed and conflicts of interest avoided. Science must have an inherent integrity and quality, both individually and as a whole, underpinned by continuous peer review. It should not be optimistic or pessimistic but accurate and strive for greater inter- and multi-disciplinarity.
5) Stronger emphasis must be given to the inclusion of social sciences to improve understanding of how the public may react or adapt. This will further help scientists understand their role in society. Their collective wisdom is essential in more proactively helping policy-makers to get things right. Science must accept that such inputs are often required ad-hoc, as there is not always time for tailor-made studies or optimal solutions.
6) There are established channels for providing policy advice - scientists must learn to use these more effectively, and be less aloof and perhaps less arrogant. In so doing, science must enhance its voice, be courageous in policy debates, and get better organized to ensure more accurate representation of its findings. This requires greater understanding of, and earlier engagement with, the general public, private sector and non-governmental organizations who are equal stakeholders.
WHAT WE EXPECT FROM THE POLICY-MAKING COMMUNITY
7) Points 4, 5 and 6 largely apply to policy-makers who must be receptive to scientific advice, even when this advice is uncomfortable. They should involve scientists at all stages in the policy-making cycle and pose the right questions in a timely fashion, as the quality of advice can be determined by the necessary speed of response.
8) For the science and policy relationship to work, policy-makers have to challenge science to deliver on their public investment. In so doing, policy-makers must not look at aspirations only, but should define explicit goals.
9) Policy-makers may be restricted in the level of expertise or tools they have at their disposal. Nevertheless, they should consult more widely and learn from best practices and pitfalls encountered elsewhere. In particular, they should keep their door open and more readily include the private/corporate sector and civil society groups/NGOs in public dialogue on scientific evidence.
WHAT WE EXPECT FROM THE PUBLIC, INDUSTRY AND INTEREST GROUPS
10) The public plays a critical role as policy-makers are largely elected and public views usually determine what positions policy-makers will take or support, sometimes against the grain of what the scientific evidence is telling us. This explains why industry and interest groups spend so much time and resources trying to influence public opinion. Scientists must learn to find transparent ways and means to counter-balance this if the messages being passed are scientifically incorrect. Even so, scientists must realize that scientific consensus may not exist and avoid framing issues as science versus the public with science in the right. The public, also, must be more trusting of science and be made to understand that societal problems are not necessarily problems with purely scientific solutions. Crucially, they need to value innovative science and accept that calculated risks are fundamental to realizing proven benefits.
11) Industry is the largest investor in science and has every right to have its voice heard and to expect that the policy-making framework is set up to facilitate its success which is both economic and societal. Industry should strive for better practice in disclosing its vested interests and avoid conflicts of interest when engaging with external scientists and policy-makers. Above all, industrial research should be underpinned by an inherent integrity and quality. It should avoid a battle-ground mentality and the promotion of public disinformation to muddle the scientific picture when competitors or policy-makers appear to be going in a direction it may not prefer.
12) Interest groups similarly have every right to have their voice heard as guardians of the common good or legitimate sectoral interests and are a crucial cog in the policy-making cycle. They must be transparent and accountable but above all, responsible for the information and misinformation they disseminate to suit their purpose. When interest groups clearly get it right, both the scientific and policy-making community should give them the credit they deserve. When they get it clearly wrong, they should learn to hold their hands up and contribute to dismantling the public myths about science they have helped create.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
13) Scientific advice must be more involved in all stages of the policy cycle: from policy anticipation and development to policy implementation and evaluation. Particularly in Europe, scientists need to be more readily seconded into political circles. This interaction will help bridge the gap whereby scientists tend to think long-term while policy-makers tend to think in short-term categories (election cycles). At the same time, scientists think on all spatial scales – from the atom to the universe – while most policy-makers rather care for their constituency.
14) Policy-making must learn to cope with the speed of scientific development and include greater foresight and policy anticipation. Aspects of future risk and uncertainty are particularly complex and difficult for policy-makers to grapple with. Science should be more forthright in providing advice on the costs and benefits of action or inaction. Similarly, the precautionary principle must not be misused for impeding technological progress.
15) There is a need to build trust between scientists, policy-makers and other societal actors through a long-term, sustained and participatory dialogue – nobody should be excluded or left behind. There is a need for institutions that can serve as "brokers" and "interpreters" between the science and policy arenas. Global challenges need global solutions. It is therefore of the utmost importance to join efforts globally to provide the best possible scientific advice.