by Judith Curry
In this age of politicization of science and activist scientists, the Brussel Declaration offers some very good advice and deserves to be widely read and discussed.
The authors of the Brussel Declaration have written an essay entitled Policy Making Manifesto: Squaring Science with the Human Factor. Subtitle: Brussels Declaration gives the ethics approach and guiding principles for revolutionising how scientific evidence is transferred into science & society policy making. Excerpts:
The guiding principles of recommendations included in the declaration hinge on responsibility, integrity, independence, and accountability. They are the backbone for developing and communicating science to inform and evaluate policy.
Currently, much of the information—including that of scientific nature—citizens receive on a topic where policy has yet to be decided is not accepted de facto. Often, counter-evidence immediately challenges the original standpoint.
Our philosophy remains that everybody’s science is welcome under scrutiny. Bans or cherry-picking just does not work.
Think-tanks, politically appointed commissions and expert groups are manifest. Yet, there are few checks and balances in place nor are there means to contest when policies proposed by academics, thought leaders and liberals are clearly not evidence-based, nor in the interest of those tax paying citizens they are supposed to serve. And people’s well-being suffers as a result.
The full version of the Brussel Declaration can be downloaded [here]. Here is a list of their 20 recommendations:
Section 1: science and policy – a crucial relationship
1. Science is a fundamental pillar of knowledge-based societies
2. Science can help provide the evidence base for public policy
3. Sound public policy is crucial for the direction and priorities of science 4. The dialogue between science and policy is never straight-forward
Section 2: what we expect from the scientific community
5. The integrity of science needs to be clear and the integrity of scientists providing advice must be unimpeachable
6. The full range of scientific disciplines should be included; notably, the social sciences can play a key role in improving how the public may react or adapt 7. Scientists must learn to use established communication channels for providing policy advice more effectively and be less aloof and perhaps less arrogant
8. Scientists must listen and respond to criticism
Section 3: what we expect from the policy-making community
9. Policy-makers must listen, consult and be held accountable
10. Ethical consideration of the impact of policy decisions is crucial
11. Policy-makers have to challenge science to deliver on public investment
12. Policy-makers should be willing to justify decisions, particularly where they deviate from independent scientific advice
13. Policy-makers should acknowledge the potential for bias and vested interests contrary to the scientific consensus
Section 4: what we expect from the public, media, industry and interest groups
14. The public plays a critical role in influencing policy and must be included in the decision-making process
15. Industry is an investor in knowledge generation and science and has every right to have its voice heard
16. Interest groups similarly have every right to have their voice heard as guardians of the common good or legitimate sectoral interests
17. Advice from any source to policy-making must acknowledge possible bias
Section 5: what needs to change: how scientific advice & greater inclusivity need to be integrated more effectively
18. Scientific advice must be more involved in all stages of the policy-making process
19. Policy-making must learn to cope with the speed of scientific development and include greater foresight and policy anticipation
20. Societal investment in science will always require priority-setting; nevertheless, advances in public health deserve special attention
There is a lot of good text in this declaration, but I highlight this text in particular:
Scientists need to convey the best current evidence while acknowledging the limits of science and listening and responding seriously to criticism. Scientists must justify their recommendations and better engage when faced with such argument and criticism. “Trust me, I’m a scientist” does not, and should not convince. Scrutiny matters too and discounting ‘citizen science’ is erroneous. Where there are disagreements as to the interpretation of scientific data this should be acknowledged and addressed. Scientists need to recognise that they are advocates with vested interests too – in their case, in their own science.
The science-policy interface has become increasingly dysfunctional in recent decades, especially on topics where there is political disagreement. Climate change is an obvious example, but there are many others.
The Brussel Declaration is very timely. It rightly lays out responsibilities for scientists, social scientists, policy makers, the public, media, industry and interest groups. I don’t agree with everything as stated in the Declaration but the Declaration is not intended to be dogmatic, but rather to serve as a spring-board for discussion of these issues.
As a group, scientists tend to be naive and unrealistic regarding the translation of their scientific ‘facts’ or ‘factoids’ into policies. Saying ‘trust me, I’m a scientist’ has increasingly become a trigger for public skepticism.
The role of Science Advisor in national governments plays a critical role in the function at the interface between science and policy. President Obama’s Science Advisor, John Holdren, acted to politicize science and scientize politics — exactly what you DON’T want a Science Advisor to do.
President Trump has an opportunity to select a Science Advisor that can lay the ground work for restoring a healthy interface between science and policy. I hope that he does not select a Science Advisor that is a partisan on one of the big science-policy controversies of the day, but rather someone who can frame a healthy relationship between science and policy.