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Royal Irish Academy calls for an enhanced Irish science advice system

25 May 2020


PDF icon RIA Discussion Paper on Science Advice in Ireland and Europe

Royal Irish Academy calls for an enhanced Irish science advice system.

Arising from a workshop held at the Royal Irish Academy in February 2020 with the support of SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies), the Academy has this week published a discussion paper on science advice in Ireland and Europe. Presented in this discussion paper are the main discussion points of the event, both in relation to science advice more generally, and science advice specifically in the Irish context. While the Academy is of the view that there is no universally applicable model for structuring scientific advice for policymaking, the paper concludes with the following suggestions for Ireland’s next national research and innovation strategy:

  • An independent multidisciplinary Group of Scientific/Research Advisors under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach could be established.  This Group would assist in assessing the quality of scientific insights and the robustness of available evidence including its limits, and support greater cross-governmental department integration of scientific evidence in decision-making.
  • Specialist training in science advice skills should be provided to researchers and scientists to equip them to provide rigorous, accessible critical reviews of evidence and its implications for policymaking.
  • Specialist training to build research capacity and research skills within the civil and public service should be adopted.

On Friday 22 May, the Academy’s President Dr Mary Canning penned the Academy’s views on the value of having access to credible, trustworthy and independent scientific advice in a timely op-ed piece published in the Irish Times. The need for accurate medical and scientific evidence delivered in a transparent and timely way is increasingly important and recognised during the current COVID-19 crisis, and Dr Canning stresses that Ireland has ‘fielded a strong group of experts led by the government’s Chief Medical Officer…with the back-up of the National Public Health Emergency Team for COVID-19’. This, Dr Canning feels, is working well but looking beyond the current emergency the current system for providing scientific advice to government is in need of reform. Dr Canning writes that

Ireland has a Chief Scientific Adviser who regularly assists the Government, but unlike in many other countries, there is no network of expertise established to assist him in this work, no network to bring experts together under the aegis of the Chief Scientific Adviser. It is also worth noting that not all situations that would benefit from scientific evidence necessarily represent a crisis.

Dr Canning reiterates the key points made in the Academy’s recent discussion paper: the role played by the Chief Scientific Adviser should be revised, a network of experts should be established, and specialist training made available. In Dr Canning’s words,

While the Nphet for Covid-19 will stand down once the emergency is resolved, the need for sound, reliable and rigorous scientific evidence will not go away.

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