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Getting science heard by government

The crucial link between science and policy is well understood by Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Anne Glover. According to the Scottish Science website, her job is to further enhance Scotland’s reputation as a science nation, which she seems more than qualified to do given her achievements to date.

Professor Glover holds the Personal Chair of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen and has honorary positions at the Rowett and Macaulay Institutes. She is also an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a member of the Natural Environment Research Council and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Most of her academic career has been spent at the University of Aberdeen where she has an active research group pursuing a variety of areas.

As Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland, what does your role involve?

The role is very wide and diverse but some key activities are: I am a champion for science in Scotland nationally and internationally, I work to further increase Scotland's reputation as a science nation, I work with Government to enhance the use of evidence in policy making, I help coordinate activity in the widest sense around science and engineering between Scottish Government and Whitehall and I work to increase the visibility of science and engineering as a fundamental part of our culture in Scotland.  I am also head of the science and engineering profession within Government.

How do you ensure that the advice you give is well informed and is understood by the Government members you are advising?

I co-chair the Scottish Science Advisory Council and its members are drawn from across the UK and represent disciplines in science and engineering in academia and industry.  In turn their networks are wide and international.  This helps inform me in areas where I need advice.  I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the RSE are always willing to use their fellowship to provide advice.  Similarly, other learned societies and professional bodies such as the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Academy of Engineering do the same.  The Scottish academic science and engineering community are also very generous with their time and have always responded to requests for advice or information.  With all this advice, it is then down to me to translate it into a form that is understood by Government and other non-specialists.

What are the steps/processes involved in producing and ratifying Government Science Policy?

This is not an easy question to answer as there isn't a single way of developing policy.  Government has made a commitment to evidence-based policy making so evidence (science, economic, social science etc) should make an appearance quite early on in the food chain.  I think that when this is achieved, we see effective and robust policies which stand the test of time.  We also have a minority Government in Scotland and this is a challenge for introducing new policy as support must be won from the other parties to ensure its adoption.

What are the 3 key areas of science policy going to be during the next decade?

Three keys areas come to mind immediately: climate change, health and sustainable economic growth (the Government's "Purpose"). We need imaginative policy to ensure that we can meet the challenges posed by rapid man-made climate change.  This will include many areas of policy including sustainable energy, sustainable transport and smart green construction.  We also need policies to help us support an ageing
population and to improve the health of our nation.  Our future success will depend upon a vibrant economy so we need policy to support the translation of basic research (which is fundamentally important) to increased economic activity and opportunity.

How will the current financial situation - and the consequent tightening of government expenditure - impact upon science policy, or will it?

The evidence for policy making comes form a variety of sources.  The main research providers generate much of this e.g. the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, the Scottish Crops Research Institute, the Moredun Institute etc. and it is in the Government's interest to ensure that they are sustainable as the evidence they deliver is essential for policy making.  However, in the current financial climate it is hard to think that any sector will be immune from the downward pressure on public spending.

What are the prospects like for science in Scotland and how will current and future science policy influence them?

Research and development relies on the public purse for 70% of its funding in Scotland.  Similarly direct expenditure on our Universities also demands substantial funds from the public purse and we have  20 Higher Education Institutions in Scotland.  We have seen increasing investment both in our Universities and our research budgets over the past 5 years and it is hard to see how this can continue.  So we need to be imaginative in how we attract funding and work together to optimise capital resource etc.  We already have a head start here in Scotland through research pooling which brings together groups of Universities to deliver world-class programmes of research in key areas.  I hope that this will contribute to our resilience in our ability to deliver world class research in the future.  Our economy depends upon it.

What do you enjoy about your role?

I love the variety of my role and the opportunity to learn about lots of different areas of science and engineering and what our strengths are here in Scotland.  Through my role I have met some truly inspirational scientists in both academia and business, which makes me very optimistic about what we can achieve.  I also value the opportunity to become involved in science engagement activity to spread the excitement about
science to a wider audience.

James Beggs is a 3rd year undergraduate in Biological Sciences


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