Chief science advisers (CSA) aim to bridge the realms of science and policy. Science advice to government is a practice that goes back to C. P. Snow’s (1961) analysis on science and government, which covers two eminent scientists advising the British government in the Second World War. Science and policy are two realms where the role of a science adviser is that of mobilizing knowledge to influence in a rationalized policy-making process (Jasanoff 1994; Weingart 1999).
There is no “one size fits all”. Depending on the country, you may find different informal or formal channels for science advice to governments. The US appointed its first presidential science advisor in 1957, followed seven years later by the appointment of the first cross-government Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) in the UK. CSAs have also been appointed in Australia, Cuba, Czech Republic, India, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand and at the European Commission. In the UK, additional SA roles have been added gradually since 2002, and there is now one in every government department (DSAs). New Zealand is also adopting a DSA model (Wilsdon 2014).
The two main models are thus as follows (Melchor 2020):
Regardless of the formula, CSAs tend to be active scientists who work in either a secondment or part-time framework embedded within a government department.
Those CSAs that provide their advice to foreign ministries are the ones more directly involved in science diplomacy, international scientific cooperation and international relations. They are not necessarily experts on all scientific matters but understand where to find the most appropriate expert on any given topic. Their role would entail:
However, providing international science advice is a difficult practice with challenges and checklists to fulfil and strict protocols to be established (Grimes et al. 2017). These science advisers to the Foreign Ministries have established a network called FMSTAN, which is covered in Topic 3.3.4 Global Networks.
The specific skillset required for CSAs is broad. Not only do they have to recognise the limits of science, accept that they inform and do not make policy themselves (Gluckman 2014), but also they need to adopt and feel comfortable with the role of a broker (Pielke 2007), not of an advocate. They need to embody credibility as well as the trust of the public, media, policymakers, politicians, diplomats and scientists, being able to actively engage with all these communities and provide spaces for mutual understanding and respect. Lastly, transparency and independence are also traits that any CSA needs to fulfil their role.
Different CSA to Foreign Affairs Ministries have reported the main factors for being successful as CSA in Foreign Ministries (Gluckman et al. 2017): (1) collaboration throughout government is key as CSA from the foreign ministry engages with other officials in other government departments; (2) communication and support within the foreign ministry will enable the CSA to better interact, understand the particular country position and priorities, and advice different officials; (3) active relationship to the science community will enable the CSA to inspire confidence within the scientific community, the civil service and industry; and (4) access to Science and Technology teams that will support the CSA in any activity that may not be of her expertise or will expand her influence in the global scene with the help of the national network of science attachés.
Here, we bring you the comments from different renowned chief science advisers so you are able to better understand not only their scientific careers, but also their role and commitment to ensure science has a say in the policy-making process.
Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) and former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand (2009-2018)
What is your background? When did you become a science diplomat?
Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to the UK Ministry of Defence on nuclear science and technology matters. Former CSA to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Professor of Materials Physics at Imperial College London
Can you tell us very briefly what is your background and the main milestones of your career?
Chief Science Advisor to Canada’s Prime Minister and Minister of Science
Could you tell us briefly about your background and current position? What are your main responsibilities as CSA?
Part of the information contained in this topic has been extracted from some of the following documents. You may also read additional information in the links below:
– Clary, David C. (2013): “A Scientist in the Foreign Office.” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 2, No. 3 (September 2013) (Link)
– Degelsegger-Márquez, Alexander, Tim Flink, and Charlotte Rungius (2018): What it takes to do science diplomacy. Practices, identities, needs and challenges of science diplomacy practitioners. Baseline analysis and needs assessment, Deliverable 2.3, Vienna: S4D4C (Link)
– Gluckman, Peter (2014): “The art of science advice to government.” Nature, 507, 163–165.
– Gluckman, P.D., V. Turekian, R. W. Grimes, and T. Kishi (2017): “Science Diplomacy: A Pragmatic Perspective from the Inside.” Science Diplomacy, Vol. 6, No. 4 (December 2017) (Link)
– Grimes, Robin W, Julie K. Maxton, and Ruth E. Williams (2017): “Providing International Science Advice: Challenges and Checklists.” Science & Diplomacy Vol. 6, No. 3 (September 2017) (Link)
– Jasanoff, Sheila (1994): The Fifth Branch: Science Advisers as Policymakers, Boston: Harvard University Press.
– Melchor, Lorenzo (2020): “What Is a Science Diplomat?” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 15 (3):409-423 (Link)
– Pielke, Roger (2007): The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
– Snow, Charley P. (1961): Science and Government, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
– Weingart, Peter (1999). “Scientific expertise and political accountability: paradoxes of science in politics.“ Science and Public Policy 26(3): 151-161.
– Wilsdon, James (2014): “The past, present and future of the Chief Scientific Advisor.” European Journal of Risk Regulation, 2014 (3). pp. 293-299 (Link)
Examples of CSA
– Network of Chief Scientific Advisers to the United Kingdom (Link)
– Principles of scientific advice to government, 2010 (Link)
– SAM – Group of Chief Scientific Advisors to the European Commission (Link)
– Sato, Y, and T. Arimoto (2016): “Five years after Fukushima: scientific advice in Japan”. Palgrave Communications 2, 16025 (Link)
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