Scientific advice to governments has never been in greater demand; nor has it been more contested. From climate change to cyber-security, poverty to pandemics, food technologies to fracking, the questions being asked of scientists, engineers and other experts by policymakers, the media and the wider public continue to multiply and increase in complexity. At the same time, the authority and legitimacy of experts are under increasing scrutiny. This thematic article collection (‘special issue’) brings together perspectives on the theory, practice and politics of scientific advice that build on the conclusions of the landmark conference in Auckland in August 2014, which led to the creation of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA). We hope that new papers will continue to be added to this collection over the next year and beyond, making it a living, fully open access repository for new scholarship and policy thinking—and an important contribution to the emerging science and art of scientific advice.