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To be an Effective Chief Scientific Advisor You've Got to be Lucky: Robert May

By Alex Reisner

Despite the hype about Prof Ian Chubb's appointment last year, the Chief Scientist doesn't have the influence afforded to his UK counterpart.

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Just on 11 months ago (May 5, 2011) Professor Robert May (Lord May of Oxford, OM, AC, FRS, FAA, former Chief Scientific Advisor to Her Majesty's Government, former President of the Royal Society ) addressed the annual dinner of the Australian Academy of Science. And it was three weeks before that the then Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Technology, Senator Kim Carr, announced that the just retired vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Ian Chubb, would take over the Chief Scientist's role for the Australian Government. In announcing the appointment Senator Carr was fulsome in his praise: "We ask for the skills to negotiate the wilds of Canberra and the corridors of academia and the boardrooms of the corporate world. This is no small task (but) the government has found those characteristics united in Professor Ian Chubb."

Turning back to Professor May he told the Australian Academy Fellows:

The only advice I have about having more influence with government is: "You have to be lucky". The things that have happened in Britain are by and large good, not necessarily a reflection on the skills of The Royal Society or others [which] have been just good luck. In the general election of 1993 one of the Labour Party manifestos – which had been influenced by a very interesting eminence grise in the Party, Jeremy Bray – was to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Click here to view the February 7, 2012 Webcast in which the PCAST report is fully discussed. It is chaired by Carl Wieman, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics for the production, with Eric Cornell, of the first true Bose–Einstein condensate. He currently serves as Chair of the Board on Science Education of the National Academy of Sciences.