STEPS Symposium 2013: Credibility across cultures - expertise, uncertainty and the global politics of scientific advice

Wednesday 6 February 2013 - Thursday 7 February 2013
University of Sussex Conference Centre

Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission is giving a free, public lecture on 6 February as part of the IDS-based STEPS Centre’s annual Symposium.

During her lecture, entitled 'What is the right balance between respecting evidence and living in the real world?', Professor Glover will talk about the politics of scientific advice just over a year after she was appointed as the European Commission’s first ever Chief Scientific Advisor.

The address is the keynote event of the Symposium, whose theme is ‘Credibility Across Cultures: expertise, uncertainty and the global politics of scientific advice’. Professor Glover’s lecture is free to attend, begins at 17.45 in the Jubilee Lecture Theatre on the University of Sussex campus, and will be followed by a drinks reception.

Scientific advice has never been in greater demand; nor has it been more contested. From climate change to cyber-security, poverty to pandemics, food technologies to fracking, the questions being asked of experts by policy makers, the media and the public continue to multiply.

At the same time, in the wake of the global financial crisis and controversies such as ‘Climategate’, the authority and legitimacy of experts is under greater scrutiny. And the explosion of social media opens up new channels for debate, enabling, and at times forcing, experts to engage directly with more diverse audiences.

Worldwide, we see novel structures for scientific advice being put in place: both through new institutions like the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES); and the appointment of a UK-style ‘chief scientific adviser’ at the European Commission.

These issues were also magnified in the run-up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit and in debates over what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals. Following Rio+20 in June 2012, there has also been a renewed push to ensure that the latest research and evidence informs international policy discussions, with new initiatives such as Future Earth and the UNESCO science advisory board.

Tackling the sustainability and development challenges of the 21st century will undoubtedly require the 'best available' scientific advice: to measure progress; to predict impacts; to identify solutions; and to evaluate options and pathways for decision-making. But what is 'best advice' – and how might this idea need to be re-thought – amidst the inherent complexities, uncertainties and contestations of knowledge and value that pervade so many of today’s challenges?

Many questions persist about how to build and maintain robust, open and accountable processes of expert advice that can operate effectively across disciplines, sectors, social contexts and national boundaries. This critical task – of maintaining credibility across cultures – will be the focus of the 2013 STEPS Centre Annual Symposium.

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University of Sussex, Brighton, BN1 9QU, United Kingdom