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Europe appoints science adviser

Scottish cell biologist Anne Glover hopes to influence EU policy-making.

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Univ. Aberdeen

Anne Glover, Europe’s first chief scientific adviser.

The dearth of independent, sound scientific advice in European policy-making provokes endless complaints from science advocates, who blame it for the continent’s wrangling over charged issues such as genetically modified crops and nanotechnology.

They might finally have a saviour, in the person of Anne Glover, a Scottish molecular and cell biologist, who was named last week as Europe’s first chief scientific adviser.

More than two years after pledging to create the post, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, officially announced Glover’s appointment on 5 December. He also outlined her role, ending long-standing speculation about the extent of the job’s remit. Nature first reported that Glover had won the job on 21 November (see Nature; 2011).

“I have long pressed for the creation of a high-level scientific adviser at the heart of the European Commission, which is key to ensuring that development and implementation of EU policy and legislation are underpinned by a robust evidence base,” says John Beddington, the United Kingdom’s chief scientific adviser.

Glover, who was not available for interview, spent most of her academic career at the University of Aberdeen, UK, studying microbial diversity and how organisms respond to stress at a cellular level. She has served as chief scientific adviser to Scotland’s government since 2006, and will leave the job on 21 December before beginning her new life in Brussels in the new year.

Glover will report directly to Barroso, providing him with advice on policy proposals, and guidance on interpreting uncertainty in scientific evidence. She will also have a key role in strategic planning for emergencies — such as the Escherichia coli outbreak that swept across Europe this year — and providing updates on scientific advances and novel technologies. Another key role will be to communicate science to the public, particularly the benefits and risks of new technologies.

Glover will have an office in the Berlaymont building in Brussels, where Barroso works, putting her at the heart of European policy-making. Her position will be at a high managerial level in the European Commission, equivalent to a director-general, which other science advisers believe will give her the independence and authority to succeed.

The Bureau of European Policy Advisers will provide Glover with administrative support. But it is still uncertain whether she will have her own team of scientists to support her. Nor is it clear what her relationship will be with other existing Brussels-based commission advisory groups, such as the European Research Area Board — which advises on research policy — and the Joint Research Centre, a collection of seven research institutes carrying out research relevant to policy.

Ultimately, Glover’s success will depend on having “direct access to the relevant science policy-makers”, says Robert May, a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government. “She must have the authority to speak the truth, never twisting the science to suit political expedience, but also recognize that policy needs will sometimes override what you think as a scientist.”

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