Ireland loses independent voice on science

Taxpayers should be livid that Ireland will no longer have a Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) according to the Irish Stem Cell Foundation.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, announced yesterday that Professor Mark Ferguson will take on the role of CSA to the Government in addition to his existing role as Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

Minister Bruton said “This move marks a consolidation of our resources in this area and complements the range of scientific advice that is also available within Government organisations, including in areas such as veterinary science, agriculture, environment and health.”

According to the its website, the CSA was established to provide the Government with independent, expert advice on issues related to public science policy. The government agency, SFI, determines which researchers and research teams they should fund.

Speaking to Science Calling, Dr Stephen Sullivan, Chief Scientific Officer at Irish Stem Cell Foundation, said “there is a clear conflict of interest having a civil servant assessing the impact of their own decisions when it comes to allocation of taxpayers money into scientific research”. He added this was not only bad for science, but also bad for independent assessment of science funding.

“There is a clear conflict of interest having a civil servant assessing the impact of their own decisions”

Dr Stephen Sullivan

In SFI’s policy on conflict of interest, it says its aim is “to earn and maintain the confidence of the research community, the Government and of the general public in the integrity, effectiveness and impartiality of its decision-making processes. It will not do so if these processes are seen to be compromised by conflicts of interests”.

This move is in opposition to the international trend of appointing more CSAs. There was much celebration last year when Anne Glover was appointed as the first ever CSA to the EU.

Commenting on this trend, Dr Sullivan said “In other countries, like UK, there are more Government advisers on science policy and evidence based decision-making is seen as the way forward”.

“We have taken several body blows now in terms of overall science governance: closure of independent bioethics council, doing away with a Minister of Science, lack of retention of key staff at Science Foundation Ireland, and now this. There is also a worrying disconnect between science funding agencies and the science community”, added Dr Sullivan.

Prof. Patrick Cunningham completed his term as the first CSA to the Irish government on 31 August this year. There was no replacement announced at the time.

For more information, see SFI press release.

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