Science has evolved over many centuries to become an integral part of modern society, underpinning our health, wealth generation and cultural fabric. This process has been distinguished by an implicit collaboration between science and business, government, and the wider community.
However, the integration of science with evidence-based policy has – in this century – often been wilfully disregarded by politicians in many countries, who either cherry-pick or completely ignore the science when it does not accord with their political agenda. Most recently in the United States, we have seen “alternative facts” supplant scientific and other evidence bases in the “post-fact” era.
While surveys continue to show that the vast majority of people still support and believe in the benefits of science, the politicisation of science has inevitably raised seeds of doubt, or polarised many people’s world view.
So it is important now, more than ever, to reinforce with politicians the value and respect for science in the creation of evidence-based policy.
In Australia, a key connection between science and politics is the annual “Science meets Parliament” (SmP) event, which began in 1999, and which today is organised by Science and Technology Australia. This unique event, that each year brings together hundreds of scientists and the Australian Parliament, owes its success to the way in which it saturates Parliament with science for two days; the great majority of parliamentarians are engaged in the all-pervasive nature of this important scientific exchange.
There are three key outcomes of SmP that distinguish it from a lobbying event:
1. Scientists both young and old – through their enthusiasm for their research – convey the excitement and the benefits of science to parliamentarians, thereby helping to close the “virtuous cycle” that supports science in society;
2. Scientists, at the same time, develop an appreciation for the process of government, contributing significantly to their professional development;
3. Finally, lasting networks are created between parliamentarians and scientists. They go beyond the meetings at SmP, and enable scientific engagement with Parliament to extend more broadly, both geographically and throughout scientific and parliamentary careers.
These networks, and the collaborations that they engender, are key to ensuring the ongoing contribution of science to government decision-making and evidence-based policy, and thereby to enhancing the role of science in our society.
As is the case with science and industry, it is important to continuously innovate in our governance processes; without this, the political system cannot respond to the changing needs of the community.
Science, through events like Science meets Parliament, is a key part of that evolution. We must work tirelessly to reinvigorate this engagement, and to counter those who might seek to cherry-pick and subvert the science that underpins our evidence-based society.
Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University
Founder, Science Meets Parliament
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