“Giving and Taking Scientific Advice: Mind the Gap” – INGSA/Euroscience joint high-level panel @ ESOF

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The complex contradictions between knowledge and uncertainty, evidence and ideology are increasingly in the public eye. Giving and taking science advice is a high stakes game in a world struggling with overlapping and polarising fault-lines on all sides.

This special panel at ESOF 2022 (13-16 July) will bring together some of the world’s leading science advice practitioners to map-out what these challenges and to propose reformed or new regional or global institutions that might be needed, where and why?

Panelists include:

  • Professor Pearl Dykstra (The Netherlands), 

    Moderator: Chair in Empirical Sociology, Erasmus University, Rotterdam; Deputy Chair of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Science Advisors (SAM) 2015 – 2020.

  • Professor Rémi Quirion (Canada), 

    Speaker & Session Organiser: Chief Scientist of Québec; & President, International Network for Governmental Science Advice (INGSA).

  • Irina Bokova (Bulgaria), 

    Speaker: Co-chair of the Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability, International Science Council (ISC); former Director-General of UNESCO (2009 – 2017); former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Interim, Bulgaria.

  • Paul Rübig (Austria), 

    Speaker: European Economic & Social Committee, Former Member of the European Parliament (1996 – 2019), Member of the Committee on Industry, Research & Energy (ITRE) & Chair of the EP’s Science & Technology Open Assessment Panel (STOA).

  • Professor Derrick Swartz (South Africa), 

    Speaker: Special Adviser to the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation of South Africa & Chief Strategy Advisor, Ocean Sciences, Nelson Mandela University.

  • Aidan Gilligan (Ireland),

    Panel Curator: CEO, SciCom – Making Sense of Science.

Check out the ESOF Programme and search for Session: SS2.23 Giving and Taking Scientific Advice: Mind the Gap. Register for the conference here


Full Panel Abstract: 

This panel unites politicians, presidents of science advisory bodies and science diplomats from Africa, Europe and North America to examine how scientific advice feeds into effective policymaking, or not, as the case might be. On the one hand, we have internationally significant researchers making daily contributions to the advisory processes of governments and international organisations. It is as if ‘evidence’ comes seamlessly down a big, long tube. On the other, we have policy makers / politicians charged with procuring and applying science advice. In theory, they just must go with the ‘best’ and most ‘cost-effective’ arguments.

To start, we unpick how both science and politics operate at the boundaries of knowledge and uncertainty, but approach problems differently. Scientists question and challenge assumptions, searching for empiric evidence to determine better options. Uncertainty is part of the process. Alternatively, politicians need to take decisions despite the uncertainty. They are often guided by the demands of voters and ideology, or simply the funding they may or may not have. What is changing is that a third force is coming to the fore. Grass-roots citizens are no longer passive bystanders. The complex contradictions between knowledge and uncertainty, evidence and ideology are increasingly in the public eye. It is a high stakes game.

For those believing in the integrity of science, recent years have been challenging. Information, correct and incorrect, spreads like a virus. The panel will critique if, like the often-quoted irreproducibility of scientific papers, science advice is equally a fairytale. Acknowledging the latest fad for hobbyists and academics alike and the explosion of conferences examining the processes and principles that should underpin ‘optimal’ science advice, speakers argue that these discussions all too often fail to address real case-studies on what went right and what went wrong and why. Drawing on their unique combination of experience and expertise, this moderated discussion is designed to do exactly that, push our panel to show don’t tell.

For example, are national and international research systems and the ‘experts’ they provide only too happy to stay in the shadows, defending a semblance of neutrality, while elections and life and death goes on around them? Similarly, is it true or disingenuous to say that elected officials just do not have the ‘capacity’ to understand complex science? Is it all too easy that if they want it, they can call it an ‘input’ and if they don’t, they can simply call it ‘lobbying’?

Representing diverse continental views, speakers examine Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine’s recent legacies as an exemplifier of humanity’s inhumanities and interdependences. From vaccine inequity and the fault-lines between rich and poor countries, the strength of international cooperation is being tested. Without simply asking for more money, more science and better advisory systems, speakers are challenged to map-out what reformed or new regional or global institutions might be needed, where and why? Or must we accept the gap between ‘giving and taking’ advice, the dumbing-down of ‘evidence’ and a ‘snapback to normal’ in our post-pandemic politics?