To lobby or not to lobby

The Royal Society led a spirited campaign to limit the cuts to the country's science budget. Credit: Flickr/Tracy O

An important question was raised this morning: Should scientific academies lobby policymakers?

The instinctive answer may be no. Earlier today we heard that one of the selling points – perhaps the selling point – of academies that appeals to policy advisors is their dispassionate objectivity.

But the Royal Society in the United Kingdom has pioneered a more passionate way of engaging with government on issues that relate directly to the ability of the country’s scientists to do their job.

Ian Thornton from the society explained how, faced with the “tightest budget in recent history” this year following the financial crisis, the society led a spirited campaign to limit the cuts to the country’s science budget.

The society gathered evidence to show that the UK punches above its weight in international science. It also showed how ‘competitors’ such as China, the US and Sweden were investing in science and technology as a way of kick-starting their stricken economies.

The lobby paper was timed to coincide with the UK elections in May, which saw power handed from the long-suffering Labour party to a coalition between the country’s Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, led by David Cameron.

“The report was timed to be the first thing that hit the new science minister’s desk,” Thornton said.

This is a controversial approach, even within the Royal Society, so it is not surprising that Thornton’s talk elicited concerned comments about the danger lobbying could pose to the objective ‘brand’ of the academy.

This concern is understandable, but I believe that there are policy areas where academies can take a stand without jeopardising their brand. The national science budget is one of them.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

2 Responses to To lobby or not to lobby

  1. Owen Gaffney says:

    This is conflating two issues. Scientists should remain objective when producing reports and articles advancing or synthesising science. Their publications should not lobby for one action or another but provide objectivity based on evidence. This is very different to lobbying for resources, which any organisation using public must must do as a matter of course. I can’t see what is remotely controversial about this.

  2. scidevnet says:

    Hi Owen, that is an important point and one that probably should have been emphasised both in the post and in the session where this was discussed. However, there are those in the African academies who would feel that engaging with their governments in such an aggressive way, if only to lobby for resources for science, would be either unsuitable or impossible. But I do take your point. Linda

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