African Science Academy Development Initiative: Prioritizing Food Security Policies For Health and Development in Africa
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Why Science Academies FAQ

What is evidence-based science advice?

Evidence-based science advice is a conclusion or recommendation about a particular unknown subject based upon the investigative assessment of existing evidence from relevant fields of inquiry and the application of the laws of scientific reason. The process of scientific advising is not directly an experimental or observational process but one which is based on the review, synthesis, and analysis of experimental or observational processes. Those individuals who conduct such an assessment collectively represent scientific disciplines relevant to the subject of investigation. Given that the personal and cultural beliefs may influence perceptions and interpretations of evidence and may impair the objectivity of investigators, those conducting the assessment are carefully screened to minimize the political and ideological influence or biases and financial and other forms of conflict of interest. The product of the investigation is subjected to an independent external review to verify that the conclusions drawn are valid and relevant.

Experimental evidence generated using the scientific method is the key input to science advice. The scientific method is an objective, systematic process for the reliable, repeatable, and quantitative prediction of a phenomenon through formulating and testing the accuracy of alternative explanations of the phenomenon -- or hypotheses. If the predictions of a given hypothesis are incompatible with the experimental tests, a hypothesis must be discarded or modified. The evidence gathered in the process of scientific inquiry is specifically derived using standard procedures and criteria to minimize the influence of bias in the experimenter when testing the hypotheses. The results and methodologies of such an investigation are also carefully documented so that other investigators can independently verify the results are accurate and reliable.

Why is evidence-based advice necessary?

Evidence-based scientific advice is necessary for optimizing the effectiveness of decisions - including laws, regulations, programs, and policies - and for assuring that finite assets (often from the national treasury) available are optimally used.

Governance describes the process of making and implementing decisions, and "good" governance describes an ideal in which public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources in an impartial, effective, efficient, accountable, and transparent manner. Given that many major donors and international lending institutions are increasingly basing aid and loans on the condition that reforms ensuring good governance are undertaken, tools that reinforce effective decision formulation and implementation - such as evidence-based scientific advice - will contribute to improving governance and gaining access to limited development assistance resources.

Who is qualified to give evidence-based advice?

Evidence-based policy advice can be offered by anyone competent in the scientific method and the laws of reasoning but it is most powerful when developed in a consensus manner that draws upon the special competencies of people trained in a range of disciplines relevant to the subject of investigation. Many matters of policy can not be adequately understood from the perspective of a single scientific discipline.

In what ways is evidence-based advice from academies of science different from other types of advice?

While many elements within a nation can produce credible scientific advice, a science academy can do so with a unique level of credibility due to its independence from non-scientific influences, the degree of access to leading experts and scientific literature, and the use of rigorous consensus and external review methods.

Why are science academies most suitable to form policy with scientific advice?

Science academies can provide a uniquely powerful approach to supporting policymakers. They represent the best scientific minds of the land and have a rare power to convene them and other leading scientists for the purposes of national service. Science academies also can employ an uncommon multidisciplinary approach and can conduct their advisory work in a fashion that makes the work independent of government and private sector influences and other forms of bias and conflict of interest. The rigor of academy processes and authority of their findings assure them one of the most critical roles in the civil society of a modern nation.

To whom is evidence-based advice addressed?

Evidence-based scientific advice from an academy can be targeted at all elements of society. While typically advice is sought from an academy with respect to a nation's most serious or urgent policy challenges, academies should consider that their function includes service to individuals, industry, the educational community, non-governmental organization, and donor groups, as well as government. An academy that releases its advice not only to sponsors but also to the general public fosters democratic processes through providing information important to public debate. This advice is guided not by personal opinions or gains but by the scientific merit of available research.

Who are the policy makers that can benefit from this type of advice?

All policy makers stand to gain from the advice provided by a neutral, divers, apolitical committee of experts who have gone through the rigorous "academy process" defined above. Policy makers in the executive branch, legislative branch, and policy makers at the state- or municipal levels can benefit from academy advice.

Cite a few examples of evidence-based advice that has informed policy at the national and international levels.

  • Studies in Cameroon elucidating the link between goiter and iodine deficiency resulted in new regulations requiring industry to iodize salt.
  • Based on advice from a U.S. National Academies' Institute of Medicine report, the guidelines for the U.S. Woman-Infants-Children (WIC) food assistance program are now being revised to better align with nutritional requirements of these vulnerable groups (pregnant and lactating women, infants, and children under five). Food assistance programs are particularly politicized in America because of pressures by food commodity groups.
  • An Institute of Medicine committee found inadequate evidence to either support or reject a casual relationship between exposure to thimerosol, a mercury compound used as a preservative in some vaccines, and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and language and speech delays - a purported relationship that had been widely disseminated by the media.
  • A committee was formed at the Institute of Medicine to review data evaluating the efficacy and safety of single-dose nevirapine and shortcourse zidovudine regimens for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection (the HIVNET 012 study). The committee found no reason to trtract the publications or alter the conclusions of the IVNET 012 study.
  • International organizations and world leaders are being encouraged to contribute to a newly-created global subsidy that makes "artemisinin-combination therapies" available to all malaria sufferers for roughly the same cost as the single-dose therapies. This "subsidy" fund is the result of recommendations from an Institute of Medicine committee addressing the economics of malaria.



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