Sense about Science ? equipping people to make sense of science and evidence
Scientific scrutiny in Europe is essential
We and many organisations across Europe have written to President elect of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to ask him not to abolish the post of Chief Scientific Advisor. Our letter is in response to a call from environmental NGOs to “scrap this position.” We strongly object to this proposal and to any attempt to undermine the integrity and independence of scientific advice received at the highest level of the European Commission. We wanted to respond quickly so we have sent the letter.
The letter to Mr Juncker is now closed and the final list of 40 organisations and 773 individuals has been sent to him, many thanks to everyone who signed it. If you feel strongly about this, please write to Mr Juncker yourself.
Many other organisations are sending their own letters including nine European medical research organisations, the European Plant Science Organisation representing 227 public research institutions across Europe and the European Federation for Science Journalism.
Dear Mr Juncker
We write to you with some urgency in response to a letter you will have just received from nine NGOs urging you to abolish the position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the European Commission. The letter, which includes Greenpeace as a signatory as well as other prominent NGO voices, alleges that the "post of Chief Scientific Adviser is fundamentally problematic" and asks you to "scrap this position"1.
As organisations and individuals who share a commitment to improving the evidence available to policy makers, we cannot stress strongly enough our objection to any attempt to undermine the integrity and independence of scientific advice received at the highest level of the European Commission. The mandate of the Chief Scientific Advisor is to "provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation as requested by the President"2. We would reassert the fundamental value of this role, which is already minimally resourced for the task of improving the use of evidence in policymaking - a goal that attracts strong support across Europe. We would further defend the record of Professor Anne Glover in having delivered impartial and rigorous advice as she is mandated to do in this role. Some of us will be writing to you individually in more detail on these points and on the background to the recognised need for that role and others have written to you previously.
We note that the nine NGOs are opposing not just this position in general but specifically because they disagree with Professor Glover's advice on genetically modified crops and organisms. Professor Glover’s advice can only be based on the conclusions of leading scientific bodies, which is - in the words of a recent European Commission report, that "GMOs are no more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies"3. This fundamental conclusion is reiterated by, among others, the scientific academies of Africa, Europe and elsewhere, the World Health Organisation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science4.
In polarised and divisive policy debates, as we have seen with climate change, it is all the more important that scientifically accurate and rigorous advice is given freely and without fear or favour. Policy makers or lobbyists who seek to remove scientists because they don’t like their findings or advice do so at the peril of their citizens.
Finally, with respect to any organisations engaged in shaping policies in Brussels, we would hope that they would welcome rather than oppose independent evidence-based scrutiny of those policies.
For European citizens to have confidence in the way our institutions evaluate and develop policy, they need to be assured that there is access to independent scientific advice at the highest level and that this independence is not compromised.
Yours, on behalf of our organisations,
Professor Jos WM van der Meer, President, European Academies' Science Advisory Council
Professor Sierd Cloetingh, President, Academia Europaea
Professor Paul Hardaker, Chair, Sense About Science
Sir Richard Sykes, Chair, the Royal Institution
Professor James Wilsdon, Chair, Campaign for Social Science
Mr Hetan Shah, Executive Director, Royal Statistical Society
Professor Mark J Bailey, Director, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Professor Nigel Brown, President, Society for General Microbiology
Dr Mark Downs FSB, Chief Executive, Society of Biology
Ms Kate Baillie, Chief Executive, Biochemical Society
Professor David Webb, President-Elect, British Pharmacological Society
These organisations have added their names since the letter went live:
Professor Günter Stock, President, All European Academies
Dr Sarah Main, Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering
Dr Helen Ferrier, Chief Science Adviser, National Farmers' Union
Em Professor Marc Van Montagu, Chairman, Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach, VIB-UGent, Belgium
Miss Ellen Maxwell, Postgraduate researcher, Institute of Food Research
The Hon David Parker, Director, Model Farm Partnership
Mr Robert Lasseter, Farmer, Corton Farm Partnership
Dr Ed Long, Committee member, Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists
Dr Andree Carter, Director, UKCDS (UK Collaborative on Development Sciences)
Cissi Billgren Askwall, Secretary General, Vetenskap & Allmänhets (Public & Science), Sweden
Dr Simon Vaughan, Head of International Programmes, Rothamsted Research
Professor David Hume, Director, The Roslin Institute
Professor Josef Glössl, President, Austrian Association of Molecular Life Sciences and Biotechnology (ÖGMBT)
Professor Heather Wallace, President, British Toxicology Society
Dr Pino Zappalà, Extramuseum, Italy
Professor Christine Dodd, President, Society for Applied Microbiology
Em Professor Marc Van Montagu, President, European Federation of Biotechnology
Ms Sarah Norcross, Director, Progress Educational Trust
Dr Edward Sykes, Chair, Stempra committee (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine Public Relations Association)
Dr Robert Parker, Chief Executive, Royal Society of Chemistry
Professor Tim Arnett, Secretary, European Calcified Tissue Society
Professor Bojin Bojinov, Dean, Faculty of Agronomy, Agricultural University of Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Dr Karin Ljung, Researcher, Associate professor, Deputy dean, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Professor Manuel Pedro Salema Fevereiro, President, Center for Biotechnology Information
Professor Noel B Salazar, President, European Association of Social Anthropologists
Dr Lynn Kamerlin, Chair, Young Academy of Europe
Professor Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and Dr Kenneth Skeldon, Head of Public Engagement with Research, University of Aberdeen
Professor Dr Wolfgang Nellen, President, German Life Science Association (VBIO)
Professor Charles Spillane, Chair of Plant Science, Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC), National University of Ireland Galway
Mr Aidan Gilligan, Founder / CEO, SciCom - Making Sense of Science
BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (Starting: 1 hour 10 mins)
The Guardian War of letters over call to abolish EC scientific adviser role
The Times Greens turn on academics over GM crops (£)
New Scientist Don't scrap Europe's chief scientific adviser
The Guardian Scientific advisers should be supported not sacked
Cosmos European science under siege
The Pharmaceutical Journal Row over calls to abolish the role of chief scientific adviser for the European Commission
Der Tagesspiegel Umweltorganisationen drängen Jean-Claude Juncker zu Verzicht auf Berater (£)
4 See http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/climateGMOconsensus.pdf for a list and a comparison with consensus positions on climate change.