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20

Lab Times

4-2015

Analysis

During her three years as the EC’s first (and probably last) Chief Scientific Adviser, UK biologist Anne Glover’s actions

revealed a lot about the limitations of assuming that a single scientist can provide reliable scientific advice on politically-

charged issues. Jeremy Garwood looks at why the EC chose not to continue with its CSA experiment.

The future of science advice in Europe

The Rise and Fall of

Europe’s first “Chief Scientist”

Photo: Fotolia/poosan

A

t the first international meeting on

‘Science Advice to Governments’

(28/08/14), it was claimed that sci-

entific advice has never been in greater de-

mand but “nor has it been more contest-

ed”. From climate change to cyber-securi-

ty, poverty to pandemics, food technolo-

gies to fracking, the questions being asked

of scientists, engineers and other experts

by policymakers, the media and the wid-

er public continue to multiply. At the same

time, the authority and legitimacy of these

experts is under increasing scrutiny, par-

ticularly in areas that often spark intense

debate, such as genetically-modified crops.

The idea of having a single Chief Scien-

tific Adviser to government is not the only

‘model’ for providing science advice. There

are also advisory councils, advisory com-

mittees and learned societies. In Europe,

only the UK makes prominent use of a gov-

ernment CSA (the other, Ireland, has ef-

fectively downgraded the position, since

the Irish government added it to the duties

of the head of its funding agency in 2012).

Meanwhile, the European Union has many

sources of scientific advice, including its

own “in-house” science service, the JRC and

the EU regulatory Agencies (see text box on

p 22). So, why did the EC appoint yet anoth-

er science adviser and one with the symbol-

ic status of ‘Chief’?

The rise of Europe’s chief scientist

Alberto Alemanno, Professor of EU Law

and Risk Regulation at HEC Paris, has an-

alysed the origins and controversies sur-

rounding the EU’s first CSA (

Eur J Risk

Regul,

3/2014). He notes that although the

post of EU CSAwas created in 2011, “largely

at the suggestion of the UK”, its first appear-

ance in EU circles was in the 2005 report

by the European Policy Centre, ‘Enhancing

the Role of Science in the Decision-making

of the European Union’. Under that origi-

nal proposal, the CSA was conceived as re-

sponsible for ensuring the “integrity, qual-

ity and effective operation of the EU scien-

tific advice system”.

Alemanno says that this was a “predom-

inantly industry-driven” view – the Euro-

pean Policy Centre (EPC) is an industry-

funded think tank and the members of its

steering group responsible for drafting

the report represented major industries,

such as tobacco (the chair was from Brit-

ish American Tobacco), pharma, biotech,

medical devices and consumer products

(Johnson&Johnson), and industry lobby-

ing groups, such as ILSI Europe, Scientific-

Alliance and EuropaBio.

From the start, there were other groups

– designated as non-governmental organi-

sations (NGOs) – who were worried about

how much power such a CSA could wield.

These NGOs included public interest envi-

ronmental and health associations, and the

anti-lobby group, Corporate Europe Obser-

vatory (CEO).

In 2011, the President of the European

Commission, José Manuel Barroso, person-

ally sketched out a job description “without

external input” that gave the CSA far less

power than had been advocated by indus-

try. The resulting CSA should be a ‘special’

adviser to the President and the College of

Commissioners with limited ties to the ex-

isting EU and Member States scientific ad-

vice systems, no link to EU policymaking,

and a prominent public communication role

(see text box on p 24).

Opposing views – Industry vs NGO

Nevertheless, Barroso’s job description

resulted in two opposing views of the CSA –

Industry vs NGO; private vs public interest,

(and in some respects, UK vs Europe). On

the one hand, the CSA post was criticised by

industry groups as being “too weak” and de-

tached from the EU system of scientific ad-

vice. They favoured a stronger position to

influence policy in what they felt was the

right direction (“the voice of reason”). On

the other hand, it was considered “too pow-

erful” by NGOs, who argued that it was too

close to the President, was unaccountable

and that its actions were not transparent

for public scrutiny. They feared that con-

centrating too much influence in a single

person represented a risk for the general

public interest.

Barroso chose Anne Glover to be his

first CSA. Glover trained as a microbiolo-

gist in Edinburgh and Cambridge before

joining the University of Aberdeen in 1983,

where she became professor in 2001. In

2006, she began a part-time job as Scot-

land’s first CSA (as distinct from the UK

government’s CSA). “I wasn’t sure what the

job was,” she told

Science

, “But then, I don’t

think the Scottish government knew what

the job was either.”

She started her job in Brussels in Janu-

ary 2012 and later complained about her

beginnings. As Alemanno puts it, Glover

quickly found herself in “an institutional

vacuum.” She says she did not meet her boss