When Evidence becomes a Nuisance

(November 18th, 2014) The new European Commission is no longer interested in retaining a Chief Scientific Advisor, CSA. This not only silences Anne Glover’s plainly audible voice in Brussels, it also means there will be no successor. It’s a catastrophic loss, thinks Brynja Adam-Radmanic.

In the last three years, as a first in Brussels, there has been an independent and proactively working, scientific advisor appointed to the Commission. At the beginning of 2012, Juncker’s predecessor, Manuel Barroso, created an advisory post, directly subordinated to him, and hired molecular biologist, Anne Glover, previously appointed as Chief Scientific Advisor for the Scottish government.

Despite limited resources, within a short amount of time Glover had injected life into this post and gained huge support from the European science associations and academies. This was evident when, in the summer of this year, she was massively attacked by a coalition of environmental NGOs. In open letters, they joined forces against Glover and demanded what has now become reality: the abolishment of her post.

In an entry for my blog, Wissensküche, (only in German), I scathed the NGOs’ argumentation but was also impressed by the solidarity of all leading European science associations that backed Glover, by collecting signatures and writing open letters, demanding the post to be kept.

Not only the NGOs’ power of opinion, however, can be held responsible for the fact that there won’t be another Chief Scientific Advisor in the new European Commission. It, first and foremost, shows that the support for this type of position is rather low in many European countries, from the public and from politicians themselves

Anne Glover’s talk (available on YouTube) at the “Science Advice to Governments” conference in Auckland at the end of August contains many examples of the opposition and animosity she was confronted with, from EU administration and politics. They can be summed up in the statement that someone committed only to scientific evidence seems to be a nuisance for EU business (plenary address: part 1 and part 2)

That’s because Glover, in contrast to all other players, who are bound to administrational hierarchies and their respective parties as well as the special requirements of their home countries, could speak freely and that’s exactly what she did.

By doing so, she often antagonised others. While political advice often only comes into play, when the politicians themselves realise that they need scientific advice, Glover stands for a political counsel that proactively and with public transparency brings science’s state of affairs to politics. A constant source of provocation.

It’s this confident attitude and this prominence of scientific advice that Juncker and his Commission clearly dismiss with their decision. Science Advisors of this kind were long thought to be a typically Anglo-Saxon way of political counsel. But this kind of counsel has increasingly established itself in many countries throughout the last few years, as a proven and for the public transparent model. The Commission’s decision, thus, clearly curbs this international trend.

Appeasingly, Brussels says that scientific counsel has, of course, not been abolished; it will just be packaged and presented differently. Translated, this almost certainly means: no longer as a chief counsel, not in the hands of a single, highly-visible figure and without the possibility of acting independently as Glover has been able to do in the last three years.

Those, who traditionally only search for and accept the kind of evidence that suits them, will welcome this decision – suiting either the interests of the largest industries in their own countries, or pampering preferred tendencies of their voters, or their own, distorted, fiendish ideology (like the environmental NGOs, attacking Glover in the summer). For without a prominent figure, such as the Chief Scientific Advisor, it will again become much easier to ignore scientific consensus.

Those who yearn for politics based on values AND facts may rightly mourn the missed opportunity to establish a prominent voice of science as an independent, permanent and neutral dialogue partner in EU politics.


Brynja Adam-Radmanic (translation: K. Gransalke)

Photo: Anne Glover via F4E

This article first appeared in German at www.laborjournal.de on November 14th.

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