News & Views item - January 2012



Australian Science Met the Policy Makers. (February 29, 2012)

Last Friday (February 24) in an 8:30am - 5:00pm session at the National Gallery of Australia- Gandel Hall where "for the first time academics from a range of disciplines and policymakers from various government departments [took] a closer look at the intersection between the evidence base and policy processes in what was billed by Science and Technology Australia (STA) as "Science meets Policymakers". STA was partnered with the HC Coombs Policy Forum at The Australian National University.


According to STA: "The aim of the "Science meets Policymakers" forum [was] to shape a forward agenda between the research community and government that will allow us to move beyond identifying the need to improve evidence- based policy development and focus on what we need to do to achieve it."


The intention was to "inform and enable policymakers and scientists, as well as improve science communication".

The keynote address was given by Nina Fedoroff, outgoing president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and while it centred around "Where will the food come from in a hotter, more crowded world?", Professor Fedoroff  touched on "Science is not enough. We need to communicate more effectively."


The Australian's Leigh Dayton reports that Professor Fedoroff "spoke about the importance of assisting politicians and officials to understand the science behind major policy areas such as climate change, genetically modified foods and embryonic stem cell research. She said there was a growing 'anti-science attitude' worldwide. 'It probably lies in our own psyche,' Professor Fedoroff suggested. 'Belief systems, especially when tinged with fear, are not easily dispersed with facts.'"


Then observing that in first world nations few politicians, their advisers and those influential in developing policy are trained in science she opined: "It's a huge problem, more so in developed than in developing nations. Developing nations have recruited back some of the better scientists. They may not have the funding to enable them to work at the scientific level for which they're qualified. So many good people in science and technology are in the upper echelons of government."


So what's to be done?


"[T]he AAAS does breakfasts and lunches for congressional staffers. After all, it's the staffers who craft the decisions." and she suggested that the AAAS could help the STA with strategies were it called upon.


An interesting proposal; it'll be interesting to see if it's taken up.


Below we reprint the program for "Science meets Policymakers".