Professor Hendy makes the case for a Parliamentary Commissioner of Science

Shaun C. Hendy,  Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland, is pressing for NZ to have a Parliamentary Commissioner of Science.

His case is set out in an article in Policy Quarterly which has been reproduced in the latest issue of New Zealand Science Review (here). 

Among his considerations is the public’s increasing expectations that the conduct of scientific research be open to their scrutiny as well as the scrutiny of fellow scientists.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Science would be responsible for ensuring the scientific use of evidence by government and fostering corresponding levels of trust in the public.

The post would be modelled on the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and would carry out several of the functions envisioned by the Sedley inquiry in Britain, which found the  UK government doesn’t know how much policy-linked research it has commissioned, or how much of it has been published.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were among the British agencies which could not provide a list of the studies they carried out or commissioned.

British civil servants acknowledged they often wasted time trying to find past studies paid for by their own departments.

The Sedley report (here) also notes several cases of publication of reports being delayed because of political concerns about the implications of the research.

It calls for a central register of all government-commissioned research, a commitment to prompt publication, and routine publication of any work that has been used to inform government policy.

In his summary, Professor Hendy says new institutions are needed to govern the way scientific research is used and conducted by government.

In New Zealand, a Parliamentary Commission for Science would be responsible for reviewing the Government’s processes for generating and utilising scientific evidence, and reporting on this to Parliament and for maintaining a register of internally and externally commissioned research by government, together with a pre-analysis plan with timelines (where appropriate); requesting, and then publishing, policy outcomes of each research project. It would be responsible, too, for investigating any matter where scientific misconduct may have occurred and reporting, on a request from the House or any select committee, on any petition, bill or any other matter which may need scientific input.


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