‘Don’t go to politicians without an economic argument,’ warns DFID’s scientific adviser

Andreas Poike
Andreas Poike

Scientists in government must know how to explain the economic cost, significance or impact of their work, Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department for International Development, has said. “Economics is the language of policy—don’t go to politicians without an economic argument,” he advised.

Whitty was speaking in London on 24 July at the first David Dickson memorial lecture, in recognition of the science journalist and founder of the not-for-profit news agency SciDev.Net who died in August last year.

Whitty also said that global challenges would not be solved just by giving more money to funding councils. He said that although he fully supported the work of the UK research funding councils, some research disciplines had remained “untouched for years” and were unlikely to be brought back into play purely by the councils being provided with extra money.

There is wide variation in the amount of policy-relevant research in different subjects, Whitty said, and it should be the government’s job to address this gaps.

He described the idea of carrying out excellent science and then looking for a policy problem to address with the work as “intellectually flimsy”.

Read the rest of the article in Research Fortnight’s special supplement on science advice.