Forum at Questacon on the 20th February 2013 Print E-mail

Ideas and Influence: how can scientific knowledge shape policy?

ACEAS and TERN brought together a prestigious line up of leading scientists and policy makers to discuss the science-policy divide. Moderated by Sara Phillips from ABC Environment Online, the speakers were: Lord Robert May (ex-Chief Scientist of the UK), Dr David Schimel (USA, first Director of the National Ecological Observatory Network), Prof. Lesley Hughes (eminent climate change scientist, Macquarie University), Prof. Andrew Campbell (TERN Board Chair, Charles Darwin University), Dr Subho Banerjee (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency), and Mr Nicholas Rowley (Strategic Policy Consultant).

How did it go? What was discussed?

A great night was had by all in the Japan Theatre at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, on the 20th February 2013 with over 100 people attending in person, and 30 joining online from around the world.


DIISRTE and Questacon

Part 1 of the Forum can be viewed in full here.


Forum at Questacon on the 20th February 2013 (Pt.1) from Alison Specht on Vimeo.


Notice: ACEAS apologises for the poor quality of the sound and lighting in this recording, the result of insurmountable technical difficulties at the time of the event. We have done our best to improve the recording by judicious editing and other means, but unfortunately some problems remain.


Part 2 (the Q&A session and summing up by Prof. Campbell)


Forum at Questacon on the 20th February 2013 (Pt.2) from Alison Specht on Vimeo.



A brief summary.

All the panel members made excellent contributions to the discussion from using examples from their varied professional experiences. Lord Robert May’s input was particularly valuable, bringing to the table his experience in the high level crossover of science and policy. Climate change was an important focus of the discussions due to its far reaching implications for all ecosystems on the planet, including human civilization, mindful that it is a unique environmental, social and economic policy problem.

The speakers, guided by Sara Phillips, started with the premise that "good science = good policy", but noted that scientists have to be persistent to penetrate the machinations of government. This was clearly illustrated by the discussions around climate change, which scientists have been talking and writing about for over 30 years.


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Questacon Panel - Photograph by Steve Keogh

The panel responded to important questions posed by Sara and the audience, a few of which a summarised here.

- Are scientists and policy-makers so far apart that any interaction should be accomplished by a translator?
- Would training for scientists in government matters and appointment of scientists into government policy positions help?

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Questacon Panel - Photograph by Steve Keogh

The panel thought that training our scientists better in understanding the structure and function of government was be the best way to get their voices heard: "communicating" rather than "lobbying". Indeed studies in policy and communication were considered a useful adjunct to postgraduate, if not undergraduate studies. Clearly explaining to decision-makers what is important and why they should care [when there are many other matters pressing upon them], is a great step forward.

- Where can government act to incorporate the best science into their policies at the right level?

As Lord May said, effective representation of scientists in government at the highest level is vitally important. Where this has been successful there has been real commitment by government in funding a science office, such as that of the chief scientist, and the scientist needs an understanding of the political process and a wide view of where the scientific advice fits in. The importance of personal relationships should especially not be underestimated.

- Is belief a problem? Many people ask “do you believe in climate change”

The response was that one can believe in the evidence that science provides and the scientific process, and a discussion on ‘belief’ is a mistake. The evidence in society is that people are getting on with it and dealing with the major scientific issues of today, especially climate change.

From the ACEAS perspective, the only small downside of this thought-provoking forum was that there wasn’t enough time for questions to inject a bit more discussion on Australian case studies. Climate change is an extremely important topic but there are other environmental policies such as the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement or hunting in NSW National Parks which could have been brought up for discussion.

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Questacon audience - Photograph by Steve Keogh

There was an excellent preamble on the 19th from Lord May who provided a taster on ABC's “The Drum”. You can view his interview here



Here is the full twitter discussion surrounding the forum. Notable tweets and retweets were posted by Corey Bradshaw (@conservbytes) and Brian Schmidt (@cosmicpinot)

The Ideas and Influence forum on Twitter:


Last Updated on Friday, 05 July 2013 13:30