How science is used to shape public policy

By Harley Dennett

April 7, 2017

If science is a universal language, capable of crossing political barriers, it should be celebrated in parliament, right? That’s what Science Meets Parliament, the annual event from Science & Technology Australia, is helping to do.

In March this year, more than 200 scientists gathered in Canberra to meet parliamentarians and celebrate their work. Below are two conversations that took place about making a difference in science policy.

Respect disagreement, assume good faith

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel addressed the need for mutual respect, with some useful wisdom for anyone making a policy input:

“When politicians meet scientists, they are reaching out for three things: something worthwhile that they can do; the assurance that it won’t go belly up; and a way of explaining both of the above to their constituents.

“We should all agree that those are legitimate aims, and that we can assist. That’s not to say they’re easy.

“As a scientist in public life, you will find yourself re-making the case: again and again and again. In all likelihood, you will be sidelined, mispresented, or ignored. That’s not our special privilege as scientists: that’s simply what happens when people care deeply but disagree.

“There is no scientific formula for patience. But there is great strength in scientific integrity. Meet disrespect with respect. Meet illogic with logic. And whilst you can’t assume that your audience knows the facts, always assume they have the capacity to learn.”

Science bureaucrats on making public policy

Is science making a difference? Does administration get in the way of good science policy? What does evidence-based policy mean to the science bureaucrats?

The below video shows one of the panel discussions from that gathering answering these questions. Chaired by Science & Technology Australia’s CEO Kylie Walker, the panel includes Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist; Dr Subho Banerjee, Deputy Secretary, Department of Education and Training; and Professor Anne Kelso, CEO, NHMRC.


Science & Technology Australia is holding a follow-up event, Science Meets Policymakers, in August.

Top photo: The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science team have everyone out of their seats to practice comms. Challenge is to describe a mobile with-out it sounding like magic. Via @ScienceAU

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