This research project carried out interviews with Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs) working in the UK Government from 1990 to 2010. It aimed to explore how the role of CSAs changed during this period, as more departmental CSAs were appointed - in part responding to lessons learned from the BSE (Mad Cow) crisis of the late 1980s and 1990s.
We carried out in-depth interviews with both Government and departmental CSAs who were in office during the period from 1990 to 2010, and interviews with officials with whom CSAs worked. Then, in a ‘witness seminar’ current and former CSAs were brought together to discuss their views of the CSA role. The main research theme focused on how the quality of scientific advice is assessed and communicated. Additional questions included:
- What was the background to the publication of the Government CSA’s Guidelines on Scientific Advice in 1997, and on what conceptions of scientific advice does it draw? How have these Guidelines been used and revised subsequently?
- Is there any relationship between the disciplinary background and experience of a CSA and the way they interpret and carry out their role?
- How and to whom are CSAs accountable?
- In cases where the post of an externally appointed CSA was new to a department, how did this role differ from any previous related posts, such as Chief Scientists?
CSaP collaborated on this project with the Churchill Archives Centre and Professor Susan Owens (Geography, University of Cambridge). Interview and seminar transcripts were added to the Churchill Archives Centre’s collection on scientific advice to the UK Government to provide a valuable resource for future historians.
The project was lead by Dr Robert Doubleday with Professor Susan Owens and James Palmer. Funding came from the University of Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme and the Isaac Newton Trust.