There’s a big fuss being made about the upcoming changeover from one chief science *advisor (John Beddington) to another (Mark Walport) to the UK government with ‘advice’ and commentary being offered in the Guardian newspaper and in the journal Nature and likely elsewhere.
Roger Pielke Jr. , professor of environmental studies in the Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado (US) and author of The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, has written a ‘letter’ to Walport in his Apr. 15, 2013 posting on the Guardian science blogs (Note: Links have been removed),
Congratulations Dr Walport on your appointment as the UK government’s chief scientific *adviser. You join a select group. Since the position of chief science adviser was established in the US in 1957 and in the UK in 1964, fewer than 30 men (yes, all men) have occupied the position. [emphasis mine] Today across Europe, only Ireland, the Czech Republic and the European Commission have formal equivalents, which also exist in Australia, New Zealand, and soon perhaps in Japan and at the United Nations. [Scotland has a chief science *adviser; Korea has a special *Advisor for Science and Technology to the President of South Korea and that advisor, as of Oct. 2011, was professor Hyun-Ku Rhee]
In the United States, the science adviser is an assistant to the president with the formal title of Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. All US science advisers (except notably the first, James Killian, who had a background in public administration) have been trained in some area of physics, reflecting the cold war origins of the position. [emphases mine]
Pielke goes on to describe the science adviser mythology in the US. Apparently extraordinary access to the US president and the notion that scientific advice will be given more weight than other types of advice form the cornerstones of the mythology. The reality is somewhat different as Pielke notes,
Despite such expectations, the science adviser is an adviser just like any other in government, with a limited portfolio of responsibilities and expectations for accountability. Science advisers are not superheroes with special access and supra-political authority. Making effective use of the position within government requires the scientific community to realistically calibrate their expectations for the role.
He does outline some specific roles (the fourth was bit of a surprise to me)
Budget champion. The science adviser is a coordinator, and at times, a champion for research funding across the federal government.
Issue expert. The science adviser has a unique ability to assemble expertise to address specialised or cross-cutting policy issues.
Options Czar. The science adviser may also serve as what I have called an “honest broker of policy options”, helping the president or prime minister to understand the scope of available choice on a particular topic.
Institution builder. A fourth role is to oversee the institutionalisation of scientific advice across government. The provision of useful advice requires a commitment from policymakers to the use of evidence, but also to the creation and maintenance of strong institutions. The science adviser has a crucial role to ensure institutional integrity by providing advice on advice. [emphasis mine]
Taking into account that fourth option and this final paragraph, I have a question,
The UK has more than its fair share of this expertise, which I encourage you to take full advantage of during your tenure. These experts can provide you with much useful advice on advice. [emphasis mine] Just as there are calls for policymaking across government to be more evidence-based, so too should science and technology policy.
Has Pielke been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune? This business about “advice on advice” reminds me of a writing device Herbert used “the feint within the feint within the feint.” Herbert, of course, was suggesting that there was layer upon layer of meaning and strategy within all exchanges. It seems to me Pielke is either suggesting that there are already layer upon layer of meaning and strategy within the business of being a science *advisor or, perhaps, he’d like to add those layers.
I gather the Walport appointment was announced well in advance as Colin Macilwain wrote an Aug. 28, 2012 essay, with a radically different perspective about the appointment and the situation regarding chief science advisers in the UK, for Nature,
The position of scientific adviser wasn’t set up to secure science budgets or communicate government policies to the public. Instead, advisers were meant to address competitiveness by bridging the great divide between what UK physicist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures”: scientists and engineers on the one hand, and the non-technical elites who govern London and Washington DC, on the other. [emphasis mine]
It was the launch of Sputnik that led US President Dwight Eisenhower to appoint James Killian as his country’s first scientific adviser, in 1957. Seven years later, Harold Wilson was elected UK prime minister after pledging that a new Britain would be “forged in the white heat” of scientific and technological revolution. He appointed his first scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman, in the same year.
Neither Eisenhower nor Wilson hired a scientific adviser so that their countries’ researchers could win more Nobel prizes or publish more papers. What they meant by ‘science’ was military and industrial competitiveness achieved by harnessing science and technology. …
Unfortunately, in both countries, the scientific adviser’s role has evolved in ways that marginalize its impact on competitiveness. …
I have read C. P. Snow’s essay where two cultures are mentioned and while he notes many versions of ‘two cultures’ notably the ‘developed and developing’ worlds and ‘science and the arts’, I don’t recall anything about government and scientists. Still, Macilwain’s essay provides a contrast to Pielke’s take on science *advisor positions.
One last thing about science *advisers, the City of Southampton appointed their own in Aug. 2012, as per David Bruggeman’s Aug. 9, 2012 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),
The U.K. local council for Southampton has announced the appointment of a chief scientific adviser. Professor AbuBakr Bahaj is the first person to hold the post, and is Professor of Sustainable Energy at Southampton University. Southampton is a major port city on the southern coast, and part of a major urban area of over a million people.
The City Council, in announcing the appointment, describes the position of science adviser as a “role to champion science and engineering as a key driver of the economy and ensure the city uses science effectively in all policy-making.” [emphasis mine] Perhaps based on Professor Bahaj’s background, his first projects will involve energy efficiency in city buildings and services. To emphasize the partnership with Southampton University, the City Council leader will sit on two university panels concerned with research.
Note that the City if Southampton hies to the original impulse behind the ‘chief scientific adviser’ position. I did check the city website (Southampton City Council) today (Apr. 15, 2013) and was not able to find any further information about the position. They do not have seem to have created a webpage devoted to their Chief Science Adviser nor is there mention of the position on Professor AbuBakr Bahaj’s University of Southampton webpage.
Professor Bahaj did write about his hopes for the position in an Aug. 9, 2012 posting (on the one of the Guardian blogs) about being appointed as Chief Science Adviser for the city of Southampton (Note: A link has been removed),
The role of a city CSA [Chief Science Adviser] is not only to provide advice in addressing the above challenges, but also to establish city- and region-wide networks that will create new mechanisms to support local authorities and its communities.
Today about 51% of the world’s population live in cities, which occupy about 2% of land mass yet consume approximately 80% of the global resources. The world population is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 from its current estimate of 7 billion. Such an increase will undoubtedly affect the urban areas of the world, requiring new thinking in how cities could adapt to such population growth.
As for *advisor/*adviser, I tend to write advisor but both spellings are perfectly fine as per Wicktionary [advisor],
In general, adviser and advisor are interchangeable. However, adviser is used more generally to mean someone who is giving advice (what they are doing), whereas advisor is more commonly used when it means the primary role (what they are), such as job title, etc.
In the UK, Ireland and Asia the spelling is traditionally adviser, though US spelling advisor is becoming increasingly common …
For some reason, I just couldn’t make up my mind as to which spelling to use today.