Science Advice at the UN

March 23rd, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

According to David Dickson at, “Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, has announced plans to create a high-level advisory panel to help integrate science and technology into the development efforts of all the member organisations of the UN system.”

Interestingly, the new advisory body will be called the “Council of Development Advisers.” The name of the proposed new council is worth noting because it places a focus on the end (development) not the means (science and technology). Too often efforts to integrate science and technology in decision making wind up substituting means for ends. That is, the focus is on science and technology, and not how we make decisions with or about science and technology to improve outcomes.

Dickson writes that “Annan has also announced that he is to appoint a scientific advisor to provide “strategic forward-looking” scientific advice on policy matters, with responsibility for “mobilising scientific and technological expertise within the United Nations system and from the broader scientific and academic community”. One of the key roles of the science advisor will be to work closely with the new council.”

Dickson attributes Annan’s actions to recommendations offered by a task force of a task force of the Millennium Project focused on science, technology and innovation.

The tension between means and ends is sure to play out in this context. One interpretation of the task force’s recommendation is that “Eliminating global poverty, disease and hunger are “utterly affordable” but need concerted action from rich nations, including a massive increase in funding for scientific research addressing the needs of the world’s poor.” Many scientists will be certain to pay attention to the phrase “massive increase in funding” however the real challenge is to connect the results of such funding to “addressing the needs of the world’s poor.”

As we’ve discussed here on numerous occasions (see, e.g., here and here) a fundamental challenge of contemporary science policy is not just in advancing science and technology but in making decisions about and with science that improve the human condition.

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