Scientific advice

Scientific advice helps us ensure we are pursuing the highest quality science, and basing our decisions and actions on firmly-based evidence.

Why use advice?

For government policies to be effective, it is essential that we base them on what works. Scientific advice provides us with clear evidence to help us weigh up the risks and benefits of a course of action.

Who provides that advice?

Our scientific advice comes from many sources:

  • almost every government department has a Chief Scientific Advisor (usually an academic from outside the civil service) who provides independent advice to the Minister and management board
  • many departments also have specialist scientists and engineers working directly for them. For example, the Home Office Scientific Development Branch provides technical science advice for the Home Office. Social and Behavioural science for the department comes from the Research, Development and Statistics group and economic advice is provided by the Economic and Research Analysis group
  • we make full use of these specialists in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), as well as seeking advice from other government departments whose work impacts on counter-terrorism. This includes the Department of Transport, the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence
  • OSCT accesses the cutting edge of UK research by seeking scientific and technical advice from experts in universities, other research bodies and industry 

How does advice feed into policy?

Policy-makers in government get ‘for and against’ advice on action they are considering from many sources. This can include scientific evidence, information on public opinion and analyses of what has been done internationally. They take all of this into account in order to create the most effective policy.

How does advice feed into operations?

If technical innovations are needed to turn policy into action, or there is a choice of commercial systems available, we seek advice. This may involve testing or developing new equipment within government.

How is scientific advice quality assured?

The government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) is responsible to the Prime Minister for the quality of scientific advice within government.

The GCSA's advice is independent and he or she is supported in his work by staff in the government Office for Science.

Each departmental CSA ensures that scientific advice is robust by encouraging peer review and continued professional development among government scientists.

We also use Scientific Advisory Councils to provide independent, expert and strategic advice on the science underpinning specific policies.

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