Our vulnerable world is facing some extremely complicated challenges that call for new and innovative solutions. This puts a lot of pressure on the dialogue between scientists and policy makers.
In order to make informed decisions politicians need, well, information. The world is full of data, but what it lacks is good advice. That is what the politician expects from the scientist: a smorgasbord of good advice, where the only thing left to do is just pick and choose. This description is, is of course, a caricature of the situation, but not so very far from reality, I think.
The scientific community has slowly but steadily been waking up to face the global challenges and to recognise its role in solving them. For example the International Council for Science (ICSU) has participated actively in the United Nation’s Rio+20 process and is currently organizing its own answer to global problems, the Future Earth initiative.
Unfortunately when it comes to advice, it’s a buyer’s market. If the policy makers do not like the merchandise they can move their business elsewhere, i e. ignore the scientific evidence. The fact that most research is publicly financed, and therefore more or less directly under government control, makes the situation precarious for the scientists. According to ICSU’s Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the Conduct of Science (CFRS) the academic freedom of individual scientists and academic institutions is being diminished by not only political, but also religious and commercial pressure.