Science can support effective policymaking by providing the best available knowledge

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17th April 2020

Q&A with Pearl Dykstra

International Science Council



Pearl is Deputy Chair of the European Commission Chief Scientific Advisors

Pearl Dykstra is a Governing Board member of the ISC, an elected member of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Science and serves as the Co-chair of the European Commission Chief Scientific Advisors. We spoke to her about the importance of the recently published expert advisory report, Scientific Advice in a Complex World.

Scientific Advice in a Complex World, published in November 2019, is an independent expert report produced by the Group of Scientific Advisors for the European Commission. It is based on an evidence review of advice processes carried out by SAPEA – Science Advice for Policy by European Academies, which considers the conceptual thoughts of many scholars devoted to studying the nexus between science and politics. It’s timely to revisit the issue of science advising in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How does your report, Advice in a Complex World, and the SAPEA evidence review, assist policy making in Europe?

The importance of knowledge sharing and the importance of having established bodies and strong science systems that can demonstrate their merit and efficacy goes hand in hand with bringing the recommendations of this report to life.

Crucial is the notion that you have to engage continuously with policy makers and this report assists scientists with that. There are scientists who feel they can’t engage because there needs to be neutrality – but you must shape questions so they can be addressed though science. We want to close those knowledge gaps for the betterment of all.

We’re in a global health crisis, where 250 million European citizens are in lockdown. The report suggests that issues for which scientific input is most needed by policymakers are the ones for which the science is most often complex, multidisciplinary and incomplete. This is your moment – tell us what’s happening?

Science can’t deliver 100% certainty. We can say what the basis of uncertainty is, but the policy maker has to make a decision. What is fantastic is we are seeing the crucial role of organisations that are equipped to deal with this. Think of the WHO, think of each nation’s science academies. Health is not a primary mandate of the European Commission.

The European Commission deals with long term issues – we work with the academies through SAPEA. The academies make sense of the science, for example, carbon capture, sustainable food systems, microplastics. We use their evidence reviews as the basis for our recommendations, and the European Commission responds.   

Read the full Q&A at the International Science Council

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