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Do Chief Scientific Advisors Speak Only to the Hand?

By Alex Reisner

Does the Chief Scientist have any influence on the government or Opposition?

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Whether he or she is designated the government's Chief Scientific Advisor or Chief Scientist there continues to be debate as to whether or not the position is of any consequence when it comes to affecting the policies of the government of the day.

Colin Macilwain writing in the August 30, 2012 issue of Nature has no illusions:

Two years ago, [the UK government's chief scientific advisor] John Beddington... organized a meeting of 200 civil servants with backgrounds in science or engineering, from different government departments, in an effort to forge better links between them. [But] no one will ever see fit to organize a meeting of the senior officials who, like UK Prime Minister David Cameron, read philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford. They run the country already — and their networking skills are impeccable. [I]n 50 years of trying[to forge better links with science], the underlying dynamic of London's ruling elites hasn't shifted an inch. The public prestige of science is higher than ever but it remains disturbingly removed from the centres of power. And under these circumstances, the scientific community's hope that the scientific adviser will exercise meaningful influence is liable always to be frustrated.

When Robert May, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government from 1995 to 2000 and President of The Royal...

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

Alex Reisner edits