How the system of scientific advice works for government

June 26, 1998

Each government department, from health to the foreign office, should have a chief scientific adviser whose function it is to get the relevant minister to recognise where a science problem exists.

The chief scientist may then be able to guide ministers or permanent secretaries on the policy options available. The exact remit, title, position and influence of the chief scientific adviser differs between departments, but, according to the Royal Society, direct access to the minister for each department's chief scientist is crucial, as is participation in critical policy groups.

The government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Robert May, based in the OST which is part of the DTI, chairs a committee where all departments' chief scientific advisers meet. Sir Robert looks at science advice when it runs across government departments, but he is not necessarily involved in advice to departments. Sir Robert reports to Cabinet. There is a separate chief scientist in the DTI.

Other groups offer advice. The House of Commons and House of Lords science and technology committees advise Parliament. The Royal Society, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineers are independent organisations giving science advice, while individual scientists and academics may independently, or at the request of government or other groups, advise. Lobby groups, such as Save British Science, also advise.

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