Brussels, 21 October 2005
The UK's Chief Scientific Advisor has set out new guidelines on the advice provided to ministers, highlighting horizon scanning and greater openness as priorities.
Scientists are playing an increasingly important role in the forming of policies and decisions at government level. Guaranteeing that the advice provided by scientists to ministers is well-substantiated and balanced is therefore critical.
'The environment in which ministers make key decisions is changing. With the scientific community now able to provide sound evidence and analysis on complex issues, more public interest in evidence-based issues, and greater media scrutiny, a key challenge is the government's ability to maintain the public's confidence in the decision making process,' said Chief Scientific Advisor Sir David King.
It is vital 'not only for scientists but everyone in government, to ensure that key decision makers have a credible, reliable and objective evidence base on which to make decisions,' he added.
The revised guidelines bring a more practical and sophisticated approach to providing advice, according to Sir David. They call for:
- departments to have horizon scanning procedures in place;
- the evidence used in policy advice to be subject to peer review, or an appropriate quality assurance process;
- a more balanced approach in the use of research methods;
- a greater emphasis on identifying and improving any weaknesses in the evidence base as a general principle;
- outlining clear priorities for engaging in public dialogue over science and technology issues.
In the UK in recent years, scientific evidence and advice has influenced a number of key decisions, including those on: national breast and cervical screening programmes; the over 30 month rule on cattle entering the human food chain; and the prohibition on smoking in public places.