Point of view: Making science count in government
Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom
Published July 2, 2013
Cite as eLife 2013;2:e01061
Science is an essential component of policy-making in most areas of government, but the scientific community does not always understand its role in this process.
"This highlights a further issue of confusion often prevalent among scientists and that politicians often perpetuate when challenged--the belief that all decisions need to be evidence-based. My experience is that most policy decisions are informed to greater or lesser degrees by evidence but rarely is it practical or even desirable to base decisions entirely upon scientific evidence. THE WORLD DOES NOT STOP AT THE POINT WHERE SCIENTIFIC CERTAINTY ENDS, and those implementing policy usually have no choice but to continue making decisions and implementing actions when there is scientific uncertainty.
This perhaps represents the greatest disparity between the aspirations of scientists and the reality faced by policy-makers. Moreover, the clarion call from scientists 'we need to do more research' is guaranteed to boil the blood of some policy-makers, especially when past investment in science has, if anything, added to the level of apparent scientific uncertainty. THE INTEGRITY OF SCIENCE STARTS TO BE UNDERMINED WHEN SCIENTISTS THEMSELVES SUGGEST THAT THE GREY AREA OF UNCERTAINTY SHOULD BE OCCUPIED BY THEM ALONE rather than being shared with those implementing policy. This has happened in many of the most controversial areas in my portfolio including bovine TB, pesticides and marine management."