What do you want in a science commission?

Now that New Zealand has a government, we can look to what they might do. Several parties offered to reorganise the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor role, and to introduce a Science Commission. How would you like to see this role work?

I’m going to offer a few suggestions to encourage people to put their ideas forward in the comments below. (Don’t be shy!)

As just one example, the Green Party promised to,

  • Support[s] upgrading the position of Chief Science Advisor to an independent Commissioner for Science.
  • Create a cross-party group responsible for science

The political party’s statements on this can fairly be describe as vague! Perhaps readers might have a stab at defining something more concrete? (The party’s policy statements are linked in the Sources section at the end.)

I’ve previously written on this topic earlier this year, in A Science and Technology advisory body for New Zealand?

I guess there are two main aspects: what shape the organisation should take, and what it’s activities might be.

Bringing a few (but not all) of the points from my earlier piece forward in bullet-point fashion, and adding a few stray current thoughts:

  • The commission have some independent funding that allow them to work on topical issues on their own initiative
  • All output be fully available to all. Note this goes beyond just parliament, or the Prime Minister. Note also I’m not suggesting that the advisor role to the Prime Minister be disestablished, just that a commission’s role should be wide.
  • Be able to make recommendations to government. There’s an important difference between giving background information, and offering recommendations.
  • Material on issues being debated in parliament should have some way of being included in the debate, i.e. parliament does not get to ignore the advice given!
  • Be able to serve as a source of information when urgent advice is needed. We’ve had a number of “scares” that have, ultimately, relied on informal sources of advice, such as Siouxsie Wiles’ advice on the Fonterra “botulism” scare. A commission could be charged with being able to tap into the scientific community for advice.
  • That the commission be able to use external and international information if it thinks fit. (I see far too many calls that we “must” make unique “New Zealand-only” reports. In practice most science issues are international and not formed around national polity boundaries. It is a waste to not simply use the better-funded efforts from overseas.)

What do you think?

What kind of structure do you think would be suitable?

It’s worth remembering that, as Peter Griffin noted in his piece earlier this week, A change of government: 5 things it could mean for New Zealand science, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman indicated some time ago his intention to step down from the role of Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor he has had for nine years.

When Sir Peter first set up in the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, I have to admit his title gave me a vision of a person hovering about the Prime Minster, whispering sage-like into his ear! I jest, of course, but the title at least seemed narrowly focused. His activities have since revealed a wider remit, including a large number of public-facing statements, the initiation of other ‘Chief Scientist’ positions in New Zealand government branches, and his role in promoting science advice to governments.

Other articles in Code for life

(I’ll edit this later: the WordPress editor has a mind of it’s own at times…)

A Science and Technology advisory body for New Zealand?

A Science and Technology advisory body for New Zealand?

Fixing our genes

Fixing our genes

Towards tackling milk allergy

Towards tackling milk allergy

Is GM corn really different to non-GM corn?

GMOs and legislation: useful suggestions for New Zealand in British report


(I have not reviewed all sources in full: I’m only human! I’m listing these in part so that others with more time might have leads to follow.)

NZAS & PSA pre-election science discussion panel – link to full video

Who will scientists vote for?

Election 2017 – SMC science Q&A with political parties

Election 2017 – Party Policies – Science and Research (this links on to the more detailed policy documents).

The future of work (PDF file. Labour Party: remember that this large document was presented before Jacinta Adern took over leadership of the Labour Party).

New Zealand Green Party Research, Science and Technology Policy (PDF file)

(The absence of a NZ First document here is simply that their Policy page doesn’t offer anything specific to science, and the links from the interest.co.nz pages don’t lead to much that is interesting.)


A change of government: 5 things it could mean for New Zealand science

Featured image

Left portion of the masthead of the Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisor.

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