Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report


81. It is clear from the Phillips Report, and from our own case studies, that all is not well with the scientific advisory system. Many improvements have been made, but much remains to be done. Much of the scientific advice delivered to Government is excellent - and we pay tribute to those who provide it - but faults, in the way that the advisory committees are set up, staffed and operate, mean that it is not always as good as it needs to be. The Government does not always seek advice when it needs it, nor ask the right questions. It is not always effective in assessing the advice when it gets it, and does not always apply that advice in policy-making. The distinction between the role of scientific advisory bodies and Government Departments in policy-making is not always clear-cut. These are systemic problems which must be addressed. We welcome the Government's constructive response to the BSE inquiry and acknowledge the very real progress which has been made, particularly in openness and transparency. But there is still some institutional complacency, and a misplaced belief that the problem lies with public perception rather than with the structure and use of the scientific advisory system itself. Reform of the scientific advisory system is required if public confidence is to be restored.

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