Yesterday the U.K. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee announced it would launch an inquiry into scientific advice and evidence in emergencies. This will be the first inquiry of the new committee. These inquiries resemble some kinds of National Academies (U.S.) study reports in focus, if not in process. The Committee will inquire about the following questions related to emergency situations:
- What are the potential hazards and risks and how were they identified? How prepared is/was the Government for the emergency?
- How does/did the Government use scientific advice and evidence to identify, prepare for and react to an emergency?
- What are the obstacles to obtaining reliable, timely scientific advice and evidence to inform policy decisions in emergencies? Has the Government sufficient powers and resources to overcome the obstacles? For case studies (i) and (ii) was there sufficient and timely scientific evidence to inform policy decisions?
- How effective is the strategic coordination between Government departments, public bodies, private bodies, sources of scientific advice and the research base in preparing for and reacting to emergencies?
- How important is international coordination and how could it be strengthened?
The inquiry will focus on four case studies – two that have happened and two that might happen. The historical cases are the recent Icelandic volcanic eruptions (to which it is thought the response was an overreaction) and the 2009 swine flu pandemic. The cases of potential emergency are solar storms and cyber attacks.
Unlike a standard National Academies report, the Committee welcomes public comments on the subject. They can be submitted by mail and online between now and September 14. If other inquiries are suggestive of how long the inquiry might last, we should expect a final report from the committee very early in 2011, with a government response possibly coming a few months after that.