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The woman who built evidence-based policy making in Europe

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Anne Glover is a Scottish professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and is ceasing her position as the first EU Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) during the Barroso Commission II. She made a huge job in spreading the evidence-based method into policy making, by advising President Barroso with the most up-to-date scientific discoveries. But her second main goal was to create a network of all the people involved in governmental scientific advisory across the European Union: this network came together for the first time on June 22nd at the EuroScience Open Forum (Esof). This year, Esof took place in Copenhagen, the capital city of a country that is massively investing on science. It is always difficult to create a new network, but this time was even harder, as Glover faced problems both on the theoretical and concrete points of view.

A microbiologist at the European Commission

“What [the European Commission] do[es] is policy for science, whereas what I am doing is science for policy”, Glover stated. In other words, she promoted evidence-based criteria in the European policy making. But, in doing this, she has vied with at least two main problems: the relationship between scientific truth and the democratic process, and the interconnections between fields of knowledge in policy making. About the first problem, she was deeply conscious that policy making cannot be completely based on scientific rationality. “The challenge is [when] the democratic process comes in,” Glover said. “Lots of policies are not based on evidence, there could be other economic or social reasons. Take a simple issue such as harmful drugs. There are more people killed horse riding [...] rather than taking ecstasy. So do you use that evidence, and say: 'Fine, let’s ban horse riding, and legalize ecstasy?' Well, no, because there are lots of other issues and lots of other factors to consider”. Science can help, but does not have to be considered as a “revealed truth”. In building up a policy, many aspects have to be taken into account. That is why she always promoted interconnectedness between fields of knowledge: “the policy world very much mirrors what we do in science today. When I first started doing research in my field, around 35 years ago, I really just needed to speak to other biologists”, Anne Glover explained, “yet now I can’t do my science without speaking to material scientists or chemists outside my field. That’s why I think the more we increase that interconnectedness at a policy level, the better chance we have of creating really effective policies”.

Scientific advisory models in Europe

In building the network, Glover also faced concrete questions. First of all: who she has to relate with? Along with many other political institutions, the science advisory in Europe is variously conducted. There are four institutional models. UK and Ireland have a formal government chief scientist: Sir Mark Walport advices the Prime Minister Cameron, while Professor Mark Ferguson provides advices to the Irish government. In some cases, the chief of the National Academy of Sciences is automatically the government advisor, as in Netherlands and Austria. Other countries do not appoint the advisory service to one person, but delegates it to a special commission: this happens in Denmark, Finland and Greece. Italy and Spain usually give the duty to officials. Finally, other countries do not have a scientific advisory for governments, or have a mix of models: this is the case of France and Germany. 

A forum for scientific advisory

Anne Glover will leave her office in November 2014, as Juncker will enter in force. Despite science is not his main priority, the future President of the Commission, during the electoral campaign demonstrated an interest in science, and maybe about science-based policy making. Many analysts suppose that it is unlikely that Glover will be reconfirmed in her place, even because the recent tensions between Germany and UK about Juncker nomination (Glover is Scottish). However, during the two and a half years at the Commission, Glover has built a shared urgency on evidence-based policy making. The forum hosted by the EuroScience Open Forum will probably be the basis for an effective scientific lobbying action in European political decisions.

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