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It is only fitting for a learned society such as the Academy to involve itself in any debate or issue that concerns science and scholarship. There is nothing new about the close relationship between science and society. The Academy regards its duty to provide solicited and unsolicited advice as an important raison d’ętre.
In 1857, the Academy produced an advisory report on spontaneous combustion in coal. In 1898 it advised on noise transmission in prisons. In 1951 it published a report on terrestrial rays, and in 1997 on the fall in the number of students studying science at university. Initially, advisory reports were entrusted to expert members or committees set up especially for that purpose. Today, however, the process has been streamlined and questions are considered by advisory councils and permanent advisory committees.
The oldest advisory council is the Biology Council of the Netherlands, established in 1959. The council’s history goes back much farther, however, to 1923, when the need for international collaboration in the life sciences became increasingly clear. At first, the “Biology Council of the Netherlands” was run mainly by universities and societies of biologists. In 1948, however, the Academy became involved. From that year onward, the Science Division would appoint the Council’s chairperson.
When the Academy decided in the 1950s that the best way to advise the Government was through a system of councils, it was obvious to all that the Biology Council should be the first to be taken under its wing. And so, in 1959, the Council became the Academy’s first permanent advisory council. The second, installed in the same year, was the Social Sciences Council.
The Academy now has five advisory councils. They consist not only of Academy members but also of researchers who work at universities, for research institutes, and in industry. This ensures that a broad range of experts are involved in the Academy’s work.