Add your voice: Scientific scrutiny in Europe is essential

Posted: July 25, 2014 by tallbloke in Accountability, government, People power, Philosophy

A letter has been sent to the president elect of the EU by Sense about Science, urging him to reject the call of anti-scientific NGO’s such as Greenpeace to abolish the post of Chief Scientific Advisor. You can add your name by clicking on the link at the bottom.

Scientific scrutiny in Europe is essential

We and many organisations across Europe have written to President elect of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to ask him not to abolish the post of Chief Scientific Advisor. Our letter is in response to a call from environmental NGOs to “scrap this position.” We strongly object to this proposal and to any attempt to undermine the integrity and independence of scientific advice received at the highest level of the European Commission. We wanted to respond quickly so we have sent the letter. If you want to add your name your name you can do that here. If organisations feel strongly about this, please write to Mr Juncker yourselves.

Many other organisations are sending their own letters including nine European medical research organisations and the European Plant Science Organisation representing 227 public research institutions across Europe.

Dear Mr Juncker

We write to you with some urgency in response to a letter you will have just received from nine NGOs urging you to abolish the position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the European Commission. The letter, which includes Greenpeace as a signatory as well as other prominent NGO voices, alleges that the “post of Chief Scientific Adviser is fundamentally problematic” and asks you to “scrap this position”1.

As organisations and individuals who share a commitment to improving the evidence available to policy makers, we cannot stress strongly enough our objection to any attempt to undermine the integrity and independence of scientific advice received at the highest level of the European Commission. The mandate of the Chief Scientific Advisor is to “provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation as requested by the President”2. We would reassert the fundamental value of this role, which is already minimally resourced for the task of improving the use of evidence in policymaking – a goal that attracts strong support across Europe. We would further defend the record of Professor Anne Glover in having delivered impartial and rigorous advice as she is mandated to do in this role. Some of us will be writing to you individually in more detail on these points and on the background to the recognised need for that role and others have written to you previously.

We note that the nine NGOs are opposing not just this position in general but specifically because they disagree with Professor Glover’s advice on genetically modified crops and organisms. Professor Glover’s advice can only be based on the conclusions of leading scientific bodies, which is – in the words of a recent European Commission report, that “GMOs are no more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies”3. This fundamental conclusion is reiterated by, among others, the scientific academies of Africa, Europe and elsewhere, the World Health Organisation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science4.

In polarised and divisive policy debates, as we have seen with climate change, it is all the more important that scientifically accurate and rigorous advice is given freely and without fear or favour. Policy makers or lobbyists who seek to remove scientists because they don’t like their findings or advice do so at the peril of their citizens.

Finally, with respect to any organisations engaged in shaping policies in Brussels, we would hope that they would welcome rather than oppose independent evidence-based scrutiny of those policies.

For European citizens to have confidence in the way our institutions evaluate and develop policy, they need to be assured that there is access to independent scientific advice at the highest level and that this independence is not compromised.

Yours, on behalf of our organisations,

Professor Jos WM van der Meer, President, European Academies’ Science Advisory Council

Professor Sierd Cloetingh, President, Academia Europaea

Professor Paul Hardaker, Chair, Sense About Science

Sir Richard Sykes, Chair, the Royal Institution

Professor James Wilsdon, Chair, Campaign for Social Science

Mr Hetan Shah, Executive Director, Royal Statistical Society

Professor Mark J Bailey, Director, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Professor Nigel Brown, President, Society for General Microbiology

Dr Mark Downs FSB, Chief Executive, Society of Biology

Ms Kate Baillie, Chief Executive, Biochemical Society

Professor David Webb, President-Elect, British Pharmacological Society

– See more at:

  1. Chaeremon says:


    [Reply] Hi Chaeremon. I don’t know why this comment ended up in the spam bin. Maybe because it only contained one word.

  2. Joe Public says:


    “We strongly object to this proposal (to abolish the post of Chief Scientific Advisor) and to any attempt to undermine the integrity and independence of scientific advice received at the highest level of the European Commission. ”

    We’d only want the post retained if the holder ‘agreed’ with our opinions; or, disagreed with the likes of GPee etc.

    I bet we’d demand it be abolished if the post holder was a professed warmist, eh?

  3. tallbloke says:

    Joe: I think the role too important to want it abolished for any reason. We could however argue that it should be extended to include a ‘minority report’ system where opposing views are heard too, even if disregarded at the decision stage. It’s then on record that those making the decisions were aware of those views.

  4. Joe Public says:

    You’re right Roger. I should have added /sarc to the end of my post.

  5. Kon Dealer says:

    Done it!

  6. Curious George says:

    Barack Hussein Obama’s science advisor is a prolific Dr. John Holdren. We don’t want to abolish this valuable position, do we?

    Why do bees have honey? Because they have a queen, not a Secretary General. (And no science adviser).

  7. Stephen Richards says:

    They might also ask him to stop funding NGOs with taxpayer’s money.

  8. tallbloke says:

    George: A chief science advisor needs to be someone who is a good listener and meeting organiser, not an agenda driven ideologue. What sort of appointment process would be the best? What should the structure of their role be? How could a ‘checks and balances’ aspect be enforced on the execution of the role?

    We should debate this, because the time is coming when the whole climate debacle will come crashing down around the politicians ears, and they’ll be looking for bright ideas because we will have given them a good kick in the ballot box by then.

  9. tallbloke says:

    Joe: Apologies, I should have realised… 🙂

  10. Curious George says:

    Roger: Yes, the science advisor should first have a general grasp of science, and, equally important, a common sense. But I don’t want to define common sense legally. Actually, I believe that the US legal system, based on the idea of precedents, no longer serves its original purpose. The whole government has been hijacked by lawyers. Stuff like Solyndra or Stella award are symptomatic. We have to reintroduce the idea of a personal responsibility on all levels of government. Including science advisors.

  11. tom0mason says:

    What do these NGOs want to replace it with? TreeHugger General? Gaia’s Representative? or just abolish the position and let the social(ist) studies group run everything?
    Thanks Rog for the heads-up on this important issue, I will be emailing everyone I know.

  12. Sorry, Roger do not agree. It is better to have no one than an individual who is not competent and may have a political agenda to cover his incompetency. Australia has a Chief Scientist, who may know something about medical research (the area of his qualifications) but he has no understanding of engineering technology or even basics physics and chemistry. He is a left wing climate alarmist. The person before him was a token lady (also left wing) who the labor Government had to remove because she was so incompetent. Scientists are narrow in their experience and thinking. In Australia for some 100 yrs prior to about 1970 Governments had Chief Engineers. Great Britain honored Isambard Kingdom Brunel as second to William Shakespeare in the list of Great Britons.
    The position should be Chief Technologist and be filled by someone who is competent in engineering science, chemistry, technology and economics such as a Chemical Engineer. The only competent Chief scientist in Australia was a highly qualified Chemical Engineering who had experience in private industry.

  13. cornwallwindwatch says:

    Reblogged this on Cornwall Wind Watch and commented:
    Done – who will end this scourge on science ??

  14. manicbeancounter says:

    It seems that the science adviser has been too independent. Most advisers are employed to give gravitas to the existing opinions – such as a series of the British scientific advisers. But if you want science to inform policy, that may conflict with some people’s beliefs.