OECD calls for common principles for developing and communicating scientific advice

23 April 2015

Governments would benefit from agreeing common principles for developing and communicating scientific advice, both in crisis situations and for long-term policymaking, according to a new OECD report. In light of recent controversies around science advice, the report proposes a checklist for countries to follow to ensure science advisory processes are effective and trustworthy.

Scientific Advice for Policymaking: The Role and Responsibility of Expert Bodies and Individual Scientists cites examples of recent events where science advice has been called into question, including the Ebola crisis, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and the 2009 earthquake at L’Aquila in Italy.

The report says governments need to clearly define the remit of scientific advice, by demarcating advisory roles from policy decision-making roles, and defining from the outset the legal responsibilities and potential liability of advisors. The scientific advisory process should also seek to mitigate controversies by introducing procedures to declare and verify conflicts of interest and by explicitly determining how to engage participation from non-scientists and civil society.

'If we want science to help answer the complex and controversial questions being asked by policymakers, the media and the public, we need scientific advice to be effective, transparent and legitimate,' said OECD Director of Science, Technology and Innovation Andrew Wyckoff. 'This new set of principles is designed to help governments create the conditions for scientific advice to be used to improve policy-making across a range of areas.'

The report, produced by the OECD Global Science Forum, examines the fallout from disconnected science advice from one country to another and the risks of contradictory national positions. It finds that in today’s inter-connected world, where social media and the Internet can drive much faster and louder reactions to events like natural disasters or epidemics, and countries come under harsh scrutiny for the advice they give, more co-operation and pooling of information among experts is needed.

Crisis management could also benefit from advisory processes in different countries following a set of similar principles and assuring a more effective and timely exchange of relevant information and data, the report says.