Moyra Forrest: Science boss vital for Scotland

WITH global populations increasing and limits on food and energy resources, it is vital that Scotland has a Chief Scientific Adviser, says Moyra Forrest.

Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 10:58 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 12:02 pm
File picture: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

LET us hope one of the first tasks of the new Scottish Government is to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser.

It is profoundly worrying that in a world wrestling with food and energy security the post of Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland has been vacant since December 2014. If you try to access the web page of the Scottish Science Advisory Committee, the bleak words “WARNING. This page has been archived and the information contained may be out of date” appear in red.

What does the Chief Scientific Adviser do? The Scottish Government states “the role of the CSA is to provide strong leadership on science in the Scottish Government; to further enhance Scotland’s reputation as a science nation and to provide independent advice on science”.

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And there may lie the rub. It seems government may be somewhat averse to following scientific advice. Populism and good science may not be comfortable bedfellows.

But the very nature of science is controversy, with different facts holding validity. Scientists therefore try to gather strong evidence, test their facts, and respond flexibly if circumstances change.

“Frankenstein foods” may be the tabloid headline, but do we have enough food to feed current and future the populations? Genetic modification has been vilified, but we probably eat, and have been eating, more GM foods than we realise. And is GM worse than excess sugar?

Fracking is also attracting attention. In an ideal world, any further use of fossil resources may be undesirable. But how do we counter that with our ever-increasing use of energy for eg. a myriad of electronic devices? Would we prefer to rely on gas from Russia? Renewables are great, but the United Kingdom was hardly quick off the mark. Scotland is not achieving the much-advertised targets the government set. Should future targets therefore be viewed as aspirational rather than necessarily achievable?

Strong, independent, scientific advice is urgently required.

• Moyra Forrest is a retired librarian and occasional book indexer