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Science Advisors Issue Global Call for Evidence-Based Policy-Making

Largely in light of the publication and transmission of incorrect and misleading scientific information about topics such as the pandemic, COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, and other health- and medical-related issues, thought leaders and science advisors to governments and global institutions, researchers, academics, and diplomats are meeting in Montreal this week (August 30–September 2) at the Fourth International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (INGSA 2021). Their stated goal is to discuss what’s at stake in the relationship between science and policy-making, both during crises and within our daily lives.

The conference is accessible, virtual, and free-of-charge to anyone from the research community, government, and political and private sectors interested in science advice to government. Please go to www.ingsa2021.org/registration to register and for more information on the conference.

Coronavirus newspaper headline montage.
Coronavirus newspaper headline montage. [Sean Gladwell/Getty Images]

“For those of us who believe wholeheartedly in evidence and the integrity of science, the past 18 months have been challenging. Information, correct and incorrect, can spread like a virus,” says Rémi Quirion, PhD, conference organizer, chief scientist of Québec, and incoming president of INGSA. “The importance of open science and access to data to inform the United Nations sustainable development goals discussions, or domestically as we strengthen the role of cities and municipalities, has never been more critical.”

According to Mona Nemer, chief science advisor of Canada and conference co-organizer, “Rapid scientific advances in managing the Covid pandemic have generated enormous public interest in evidence-based decision making. This attention comes with high expectations and an obligation to achieve results. Overcoming the current health crisis and future challenges will require global coordination in science advice.”

Sir Peter Gluckman, founding chair of INGSA, adds that the conference is timely because “we are at a turning point not just in the pandemic, but globally in our management of longer-term challenges that affect us all. INGSA has helped build and elevate open and ongoing public and policy dialogue about the role of robust evidence in sound policy making. Issues that were considered marginal seven years ago when the network was created are today rightly seen as central to our social, environmental, and economic wellbeing. The pandemic highlights the strengths and weaknesses of evidence-based policy-making at all levels of governance.”

“I have learnt that science and politics share common features. Both operate at the boundaries of knowledge and uncertainty, but approach problems differently. We scientists constantly question and challenge our assumptions, constantly searching for empiric evidence to determine the best options. In contrast, politicians are most often guided by the needs or demands of voters and constituencies, and by ideology,” notes Salim Abdool Karim, PhD, a member of the World Health Organization’s Science Council.

“What is changing is that grass-roots citizens worldwide are no longer ill-informed and passive bystanders. And they are rightfully demanding greater transparency and accountability. This has brought the complex contradictions between evidence and ideology into the public eye. COVID-19 is not just a disease; its social fabric exemplifies humanity’s interdependence in slowing global spread and preventing new viral mutations through global vaccine equity.”

“Around the world, many scientists have become public celebrities as citizens engage with science like never before,” points out Mark Ferguson, PhD, DMedSc, Chair of the European Innovation Council’s Advisory Board and Chief Science Advisor to the Government of Ireland. “Every country has a new, much followed advisory body. With that comes tremendous opportunities to advance the status of science and the funding of scientific research. On the flip side, my view is that we must also be mindful of the threat of science and scientists being viewed as a political force.”

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