by Judith Curry
Until recently, there was little recognition within Japan’s science policy circle of the need to discuss the role of science in government policy-making. A rather innocent notion that the established knowledge and wisdom of scientists would ensure proper decision-making was prevalent. - Arimoto and Sato
There is an interesting article in a recent issue of Science: Rebuilding Public Trust in Science for Policy Making, by Tateo Arimoto and Yashusi Sato. Some excerpts:
Until recently, there was little recognition within Japan’s science policy circle of the need to discuss the role of science in government policy-making. A rather innocent notion that the established knowledge and wisdom of scientists would ensure proper decision-making was prevalent.
The great earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident that occurred in March 2011 induced a radical alteration of such a simple, optimistic view on science in policy-making. In the nation’s bitter struggle for recovery, scientists sometimes cre- ated confusion by supplying divergent rec-ommendations on evacuation, food safety, and cleanup. Public confidence in the impartiality of scientists faltered when peo- ple suspected that some of them were too easily endorsing government views. Scientific societies did not have access to critical information and failed to be systematically involved in the national effort. Polls have shown that public trust in science in Japan was damaged.
Installing a proper framework for ensuring its effectiveness and integrity to secure public trust in, and support of, science is becoming an urgent task in Japan.
In Japan, the fourth 5-year Science and Technology Basic Plan, adopted by the cabinet last August, specifically stated the need to set up basic principles with regard to the relations of science and technology to policy-making. Recently, the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s Center for Research and Development Strategy, a semipublic think tank, issued a policy proposal calling for measures to ensure the effectiveness and integrity of science- based policy-making in Japan. The proposal features a draft of general principles on science-government relations. Formulated by referring to foreign examples and also taking into consideration Japan’s particular situa- tions, the draft includes 10 principles:
The role of scientific advice in policy- making. Scientific knowledge is an essential element in the policy-making process, and the government must duly respect it. At the same time, scientific advisers must recognize that scientific knowledge is not the sole basis of government decision-making.
Seeking scientific advice in a timely and pertinent manner. The government shall endeavor to identify policy issues that require scientific knowledge in a timely and pertinent manner and act to acquire the best scientific knowledge available.
Ensuring the independence of scientific advisers. The government must not intervene in the activities of scientific advisers. As a means to ensure objectivity and fairness, scientific advisers shall declare their own conflicts of interest.
Awareness of responsibility as scientific advisers. Scientists shall always provide scientific advice for the public welfare and with the awareness of the large influence scientific advice has on the process of public policy formulation.
Achieving broad perspectives and balance. When the government seeks scientific advice, it should strive to secure the participation of scientists with appropriate insight and experience matched to the nature of the issues and to obtain balanced advice based on broad perspectives.
Ensuring the quality of advice and integrating viewpoints. Scientific advisers shall strive for a balanced treatment of observational and experimental results and of cited papers and should seek to improve the quality of scientific advice through peer review. The Science Council of Japan and academic societies shall, where appropriate, endeavor to present high-quality scientific advice by integrating views of the nation’s scientific community. The government shall ensure, as needed, that scientific knowledge used in policy-making has gone through independent peer review by qualified experts.
Proper handling of uncertainty and diversity. Scientific advisers shall provide policy-makers with clear explanations of uncertainties and diversity of views asso- ciated with scientific knowledge. The government shall respect such uncertainties and diversity of views.
Free disclosure of scientific knowledge. In principle, scientific advisers are free to make their scientific knowledge public. They shall do so responsibly, however, in awareness of the large influence that scientific knowledge can have on policy-making and public opinion, as well as on society as a whole.
Even-handed treatment of scientific advice by the government. The government must treat with fairness the scientific knowledge it acquires. It must not approach scientific advice with any preconception, distort scientific knowledge when making it public, or intentionally add wrong interpretations when using advice in policy-making. The government should explain how scientific advice was considered when drawing up policy. It is especially important for the govern- ment to explain the rationales when making policy decisions that are in conflict with the scientific advice obtained.
Ensuring transparency of the scientific advice process. To improve the quality and reliability of policy-making based on scientific advice, the government shall ensure transparency of the scientific advice process.
JC comments: This situation reminds me of the cacophony of scientific advice following Hurricane Katrina. These are some good recommendations. How do you think the IPCC and the climate science-policy interface stacks up against these recommendations?