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How can science best be harnessed to support political decision-making? How should scientific advice to policymakers be institutionalised in government to be more accountable to academic science and public concerns at the same time? Concerns about the quality of scientific expert advice to policymakers have been raised for years, particularly in the UK and on the European level. Public debates such as the BSE case, the controversy about genetically engineered food, the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) or the failure of experts and their risk models in the global financial crisis, have demonstrated that the legitimacy of experts and of the policymakers whom they advise essentially depends on the reliability and transparency of scientific advice. They have highlighted the absence of clear rules to follow as well as the lack of a legal framework and organisational structures for obtaining advice from academics. This lacuna has been further highlighted by the recent call for an institutional reform of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in reaction to allegations of shortcomings in its most recent assessment report. Thus, the issue of quality control and assurance in scientific expert advising is of vital importance for both decision-makers and the academic community.
Controversies over issues such as genetically engineered food, foot-and-mouth disease and the failure of risk models in the global financial crisis have raised concerns about the quality of expert scientific advice. The legitimacy of experts, and of the political decision-makers and policy-makers whom they advise, essentially depends on the quality of the advice. But what does quality mean in this context, and how can it be achieved? This volume argues that the quality of scientific advice can be ensured by an appropriate institutional design of advisory organisations. Using examples from a wide range of international case studies, including think tanks, governmental research institutes, agencies and academies, the authors provide a systematic guide to the major problems and pitfalls encountered in scientific advice and the means by which organisations around the world have solved these problems.
Introduction: towards an organisational approach to science advising
In order to improve the quality of science advising and make a claim about appropriate institutional design, we first will have to understand the meaning of science advice and how it is actually practised. In the following we will derive a few very general lessons to be learned from the case narratives assembled in this book.
We started with the contention that the business of science advising has developed into a professional domain of its own. This runs contrary to a still widely shared assumption, that scientific advising is nothing else than the application of scientific knowledge to public policy problems. According to this view, there is a ‘fully objective, independent and impartial domain of technoscience that experts can tap into’ – the only challenge being to ensure that they do so with integrity (Wynne et al. 2007: 77). In fact, the relationship to the academic domain is quite complex and has to be carefully managed. The provision of a particular kind of expertise-based services or ‘serviceable truths’ is constitutive for the professional domain of science advising (Jasanoff 1990). Following Jasanoff, activities and outputs of scientific advisory organisations must not be conflated with academic science and its products (such as scientific publications). In fact, it is expertise – not science proper – that informs regulation and policymaking, i.e. the ability to generate, synthesise, transform and assess knowledge pertaining to particular policy problems – independently from whether it is of interest to the scientific community.