The Divorce of Science and Decisions?

The following was posted by Farm and Food Care.  It relates to the recent EU decision to abolish their Chief Scientific Advisor.

I am very concerned that if this trend continues, the use of science in agriculture will be greatly reduced by activists.  Net result will be … people will go hungry.

Rob

Where’s the science?

By Micah Shearer-Kudel, Environmental Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

November 13, 2014 – A day that could mark a return to the ‘dark ages’ for Europe. Sweeping the headlines of the international scientific community is the announcement of the European Commission’s decision to not renew the role of Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA). This news comes on the heels of increased pressure from Greenpeace (backed by a long list of similar-minded NGOs) to have the role terminated and to have a “”…a variety of independent, multi-disciplinary sources, with a focus on the public interest” advise European politicians about scientific evidence, or lack thereof. The safety of the public is why bodies such as the European Commission exist. The decision to sack Anne Glover, now former CSA, is why the international scientific community, particularly in Europe, is up-in-arms.

Anne’s role as CSA was to provide independent information about scientific, innovative and technological developments to the President of the European Commission. Her role did not provide any decision-making powers; it was simply to provide advice. Increasingly challenged nearing the end of her position, Anne enjoyed her work and advocated for a sound scientific approach to addressing the benefits and risks of scientific developments. Though many backed both the role and Anne, the NGOs had the public sign petitions and encouraged a long list of other NGOs to back their letters to the European Commission’s President. Eventually, public interest triumphed and the role was terminated.

Without independent input based on sound science, Europe risks taking a step backwards, hence the dark ages analogy. Because no one can be an expert in every subject, the advisor’s role is to assist in ensuring policy decisions reflect the views of sound science and public safety, culminating in policies that improve peoples’ way of life and further advance scientific, technological and innovation processes. Public concern is of the utmost importance, but personal opinions and emotions should not be regarded over science in the decision making process. Prominent figures in the international scientific community have voiced concerns not only over the termination of Anne’s position, but also for the reason it was terminated.

Commenting about the decision, British journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas said, “Instead of having scientific advice at the heart of European policymaking, the Juncker Commission clearly wants to remove any person who might bring inconvenient scientific truths to the top EU table. Sadly, this is all too consistent with European moves to back away from evidence-based policymaking – if you can’t change the science you muzzle the scientists or keep them out of the room when powerful people are making decisions.”

Public pressure amidst animal welfare, GMOs, pesticide use, and vaccinations are some of the major issues in Europe, and affect Canadians also. Lessons can be learned here in Canada from this disregard for scientific process. Policy makers should be charged with knowing the science and hearing from the public and other sources before tabling decisions, though ultimately, peer-reviewed, sound science is what policy should be based on; not fear.