Government research set for a shake-up

January 4, 2002

The cultural revolution that is shaking up the way the government handles scientific research is to accelerate in 2002.

A review of departmental science and advice is expected to signal further modernising initiatives towards greater openness and quality.

The report, written by chief scientific adviser David King, was due to be with the prime minister by last week.

Professor King believed it could lead to government research being subjected to reviews similar to the research assessment exercise in universities.

"Until we have external people giving us an assessment of the quality of research, it will be difficult to have an objective view of the quality of all of the research being done," he said.

New moves would build on the existing Guidelines 2000 on scientific advice and policy-making, championed by Sir Robert May.

These were based around four principles:

  • Identifying in advance the issues on which scientific advice is required
  • Involving stakeholder groups at an early stage
  • Obtaining a wide range of advice from the best sources
  • Publishing the scientific advice and all relevant papers

Government departments have appointed an official to oversee the implementation of Guidelines 2000 and the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, published a fortnight ago.
Further initiatives would require ministerial support. Professor King admitted this would take time and that the initiatives were already running into resistance in certain departments.

He said: "It requires a change of culture for the government and government departments to buy into a policy of openness where perhaps this hasn't been so prevalent in the past."

Professor King believed peer pressure from more progressive organisations such as the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency would encourage change elsewhere.

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