One of the ideas for improving political use of science and evidence that I suggest in the book is the creation of an Office for Scientific Responsibility. This would work rather like the Office for Budget Responsibility set up by George Osborne in 2010: it wouldn’t constrain ministers’ executive decisions directly, but if a policy is claimed as evidence-based, it would audit that evidence afterwards.
The aim is to make ministers think twice before claiming an evidence base that doesn’t exist. Evidence abuse needs to carry a political cost.
I’ve written a Comment is Free piece about this for the Guardian. There’s also a (mostly) thoughtful comment thread below.
As I say in the comments, this isn’t the only model that might work. An alternative would be to beef up the powers of the Science and Technology Select Committee, to give it a similar audit and “naming and shaming” function. It would need the power to force a minister criticised in one of its reports to account for his actions on the floor of the House of Commons. It’s too easy at the moment for the Government simply to ignore such criticism.
The National Audit Office is another body that might be well-placed to take on this function, perhaps through an ongoing relationship with the Science and Technology Committee. The Chief Scientific Adviser, however, is probably the wrong person to do this — he needs a relationship of trust with ministers that could be undermined by public criticism.
Also in the Guardian, Adam Smith’s Talking Science to Power continues with an excellent piece examining the representation of science in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.