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“Science for policy” has limited external input from academic scientists

April 14, 2009

Excerpts from “Canadian Science Policy Conference”

The federal government presently has two channels by which it receives external science and technology (S&T) advice. The first source is a scientific advisory body known as the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), whose mandate is to provide science policy advice and to produce assessments of Canada’s S&T performance compared to other nations. However, in addition to academic scientists, the 17-member council also includes industry executives, government administrators, and university presidents. Established as part of the government’s 2007 S&T Strategy, the STIC has yet to publicly release a report.

The second external source of S&T advice to the government is the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA). The CCA is an arms-length body populated by a diverse range of experts drawn from the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academies of Health Sciences. Its mandate is to provide in-depth, independent, expert assessments of a chosen topic or field. The CCA receives sufficient government funding to produce up to 5 assessments per year for federal government agencies or departments. Its complete independence is guaranteed by ensuring that the client agency has no role in selection of experts, conduct of the assessment, or review of the report before its public release. Although the rigour and independence of the CCA is laudable, it is nevertheless primarily an analytical body that provides data but makes few explicit policy recommendations.

More generally, the effectiveness of both the STIC and CCA is undermined by the simple fact that they only examine issues that are referred to them by the government. Thus, there is currently no formal channel by which the academic science community can communicate its concerns to policy- and decision-makers in a proactive fashion – a capability that is crucial when dealing with rapidly emerging S&T opportunities and threats.

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