Scientists Call for Greater Integrity, Openness, Clarity and Public Engagement from Global Policy-makers
European-based speakers representing the fields of nuclear energy, genetically modified organisms, and harm reduction science in tobacco made the plea on 18 February, 2012 at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Vancouver, Canada.
Organized by Brussels-based SciCom - Making Sense of Science, the symposium, titled "Exploding Myths on Reactor Security, Harm Reduction, and Genetically Modified Organisms," brought together prominent European scientists typically leading teams working towards science-led solutions that go to the heart of citizen priorities and concerns. The panelists, each with pertinent experience of real-life scientific support to policy-making, offered first-hand advice on best practices and pitfalls when architecting science policy on both sides of the Atlantic.
The symposium featured a call for greater integrity, openness, clarity and public engagement on difficult to communicate issues of global significance. A key message was that science and policy do have a crucial relationship. But scientists should not think that they are policy-makers. Equally, science must remain independent. 'Bad science' and spin must be challenged more. Science coming out of industry must be trusted more.
The four central recommendations and detailed consensus statement in annex reflect common findings when examining the seldom seen science behind some of today's most controversial public policy issues, namely, nuclear energy, crop innovations (GMOs), and harm reduction (tobacco). Panelists asked: With approximately 65 nuclear plants under construction worldwide, Fukushima or not, why is it so difficult to separate fact from fiction on nuclear reactor safety and waste management solutions? With over 150 million hectares of biotech crops produced worldwide, what are the known and unknown implications of innovation in biotechnology and genetic engineering? With the World Health Organization predicting over 1 billion smoking-related deaths this century, isn't tobacco harm reduction the greatest public health imperative today? Is the WHO's quit or die message enough?
Accepting that societal problems are not necessarily problems with purely scientific solutions, speakers argued that calculated risks are fundamental to realizing proven benefits and that innovative science is ever more prevalent and important. They strongly urged the wider scientific community to think - and act - in the global interest, while pressing the re-set button for 'evidence-based policy' above 'policy-biased evidence'. Keen not to assume that scientific consensus can exist or to frame issues as science versus the public with science in the right, the overriding consensus was that more needs to be done to guard against the misuse of science in policy-making.