Thursday, February 11, 2010

A lesson for the IPCC?

Last October, the chair of the (UK) Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was sacked by the health minister because he denounced government policies in public. New guidelines for the relation between scientific advice and policy making are being developed by the government. As you may expect, scientists do not seem to agree to some of the proposals. The dissent relates to a perceived restriction of scientific autonomy.

The most controversial clause is that independent scientific advisers and ministers should "work together to reach a shared position, and neither should act to undermine mutual trust".

Some scientists threaten to resign from advisory committees if the reform goes ahead.

Isn't there a lesson for the institutional setup of the IPCC? Remember, the IPCC's aim is to be scientific and political at the same time. It wants to come up with a shared position, and we have seen how the drive for political consensus muddies scientific findings.


Reality said...

Maybe the other way to look at it is, "who really believes politicians?"

Maybe one of the many unwitting knives in the IPCC was the UK government - among others - pronouncing the science as "settled" and denouncing the "unbelievers".

A large section of the UK population doesn't believe that all drugs are as harmful as the UK government makes out. Anyone with the slightest political interest in UK politics knows that the chief scientist on the subject of drugs is out on his ear because the politicians weren't really interested in science. They just wanted a veneer of scientific respectability.

The parallels seem obvious.

Perhaps having politicians so fiercely on your side is actually a negative.

For the IPCC or its successor to be believable it must have many politicians against it! Now, finally, it can be believed..

AnonyMoose said...

The requirement to "work together to reach a shared position" implicitly removes the "independent" from "independent scientific adviser". The adviser is required to be dependent upon the position of their minister.

If the minister is standing, a bow is a shared position as opposed to prostration.

Leigh Jackson said...

Scientists are in no position to advise non-scientists on a question which is the subject of broad scientific dispute, what the agreed general scientific opinion is on that question.

If there is a scientific consensus then the public ought to be informed about it.

Politicians can ask scientists whether there is an agreed understanding about questions of public importance which demand scientific understanding. What they cannot do is to instruct scientists to reach a consensus.