A chief scientific adviser is no substitute for a ruling elite that is actually engaged with science and engineering, argues Colin Maciliwan.
Britain loves its scientific advisers. Almost every government department has one and, earlier this month, Southampton city council became the first local authority to appoint its own: AbuBakr Bahaj, head of the energy and climate-change division at the University of Southampton.
The UK government itself has a new chief scientific adviser in waiting: Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust. Appointed in June, Walport will be the 11th man to fill the role when he takes the post next April. He is a scientific heavyweight whose selection has thrilled Britain's senior scientists.
Walport's appointment is unusual, and heartening. He is voluntarily relinquishing a position that is not only hugely influential — the Wellcome Trust is the biggest biomedical research charity in the world — but is also far better paid than his new role. He is clearly satisfied that his voice will be heard in the corridors of power.
But will it? And what sort of advice does the UK government want, or indeed need, from a chief scientific adviser?
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