GLOBAL: Academies have no-one to fear but themselves

The director of the Science Development Network has urged science academies in the developing world to engage with the "real world" to influence policy. Writing on the network's website,*, David Dickson said many scientific academies, particularly in the developed world, were increasingly interacting with governments on science-related issues and encouraging public debates around them. "But all too often, the image of science academies as elite institutions remains uncomfortably close to the truth," Dickson said.

"Sadly this remains particularly true in many parts of the developing world. Indeed, it is often the countries that most need a vibrant and engaged scientific community that suffer academic isolation inherited from a colonialist legacy."

Dickson said there were strong opportunities for science academies to promote economic and social development by acting as key intermediaries between the worlds of knowledge and power. But to make the most of those opportunities, academies required administrative staff that could run committees smoothly, and staff who could effectively communicate recommendations to policy-makers and, through the media, the general public.

Dickson warned that academies might find such work uncomfortable and that politicians and other decision-makers should see scientists not as a lobby group pursuing their own agenda, but as sources of timely and useful advice that addresses real political choices.
"The more that academies show they want to engage with the real world - listening to what it has to say, and displaying the modesty to admit they do not have all the solutions - the more policy-ma0kers are likely to see them as active and constructive partners. "Once this happens - and science academies commit to eliminating their elitist image - the resources they need to enhance their role will almost inevitably increase in direct proportion to their perceived value to society."

* The full commentary is available in the editorials section of