Just Because Government Has Science Advisers Doesn’t Mean It Will Use Them

Word from the United Kingdom (also via the BBC; H/T Xameerah Malik) that the Chief Science Adviser for the Home Office was not consulted about the announced closure of the U.K. Forensic Science Service.  The service is a wholly owned government company that provides forensic services to police departments in England and Wales.  This lack of consultation (which extends to the government’s Chief Science Adviser) came to light during a hearing of the House of Commons Select Science and Technology Committee.

As the BBC article explains, the decision was made on commercial and legal grounds, and not motivated by scientific concerns.  I have no idea if the government’s decision would have been changed had the relevant science advisers been consulted on the potential losses (whatever they are).  The U.K. government is taking pretty serious austerity steps, and if the Service is indeed projected to run out of money, I understand why the government would consider shutting it.

This is, however, not the first time government science advisers in the U.K. (or anywhere, really) have not been consulted on policy decisions where they may have useful insight.  (Both advisers were informed about the decision.)  It is not enough to have science advisers in order to demonstrate a commitment to science advice.  You have to use those advisers in meaningful ways, and not just when it’s convenient.