BES and Biochemical Society Submit Response to Consultation on ‘Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy-Making’

The BES and Biochemical Society have together prepared a response to the UK Government Office for Science consultation on ‘Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy-Making’. Following on from the dismissal of Prof. David Nutt as Chairman of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009, the BES and Biochemical Society believe that guidelines on how scientific advice should be used, and principles on the treatment of independent scientific advice by ministers and civil-servants are more important than ever.

Key points from the response are:

– The Guidelines should be far more positive about the potential of learned societies to offer networks of expertise and advice to policy-makers. Learned societies such as the BES and Biochemical Society can help to facilitate dialogue between policy-makers and academics.
– Whilst the National Academies, such as the Royal Society, undoubtedly provide a useful source of advice to government, individual learned societies are the experts in their specific areas, and are often able to draw upon a broader constituency. Consulting more widely than the National Academies can play an important role in ensuring an adequate and representative research base.
– The involvement of lay members in science advisory structures as a matter of course could prove useful in identifying issues which may be of broad public concern at an earlier stage and would add value to the output of advisory bodies.
– Government could better draw upon established sources of expert advice by ensuring that in the first instance, further departments have their own Science Advisory Councils and Scientific Advisory Committees; as a priority the Department of Health and Department of Energy and Climate Change.
– Government at the highest level should adopt an explicit framework for the use of public dialogue to inform science and technology related policies.
– The Government should withhold advice provided or the evidence base for a policy only in exceptional circumstances.
– A scientifically-literate civil-service, and a civil-service which includes scientifically trained individuals, is also vital to ensure that policy questions are designed in a way which can be answered by scientists.

All consultation responses and briefing papers produced by the BES can be found on our website, under ‘Our Position’.