Public election in science

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Many would consider the most important person in science at the moment isn’t the Universities and Science Minister, or the chair of the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. Instead, it’s the Government Chief Scientific Advisor (GCSA).

Although the GCSA is an advisory position, the holder heads a group of Chief Scientific Advisors (CSAs), one of which is stationed in almost every government department. The GSCA is also the de facto head of the science advisory councils and the public face of science.

A group of students doing a Science Communication MSc feel that, as the GCSA is the most influential person for determining the direction of science in the UK, the position should be elected. They say that making the position elected would increase democracy following in the footsteps of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections of 2012.

A false election is being held that the group feels will “explore the relationship between science, politics and society,” and on their website they insist: “This is your chance to have a say.”

The three fictional candidates are Claire Harding, former MP for Cambridge who also had a spell as Minister for Universities and Science, Professor Robert Cooper FRS from the University of Warwick, who has been lead author on over 130 papers and is currently an Associate Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute, and Cynthia Kings, who is an STS lecturer at UCL, is younger than the other two and is active in the public engagement with science movement.

Manifestos of the three candidates vary considerably with Harding focusing on gearing science research towards economic growth, Cooper saying the advisory structure should rely on a small group of experts making fast decisions, and Kings advocating wider public discussion on big science issues, more diversity in science and a national campaign to help the public better understand measures of risk and uncertainty.

The three candidates have done a radio hustings available on their website, and are posting answers to questions posed by the public on their Twitter account and website. Get up-to-date on the campaign at www.votegcsa.com where you can also vote before the ballot closes at midnight on March 21st.

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