When science informs politics

Some examples that how scientific advice can be useful in politics and for society.

In November, the president of the Congress of Deputies in Spain, Ana Pastor, announced the creation of a parliamentary scientific advisory office "before the end of this term", a request from the entire scientific community led by the citizen initiative # CienciaenelParlamento. In December, the Cortes Generales allocated a budget line for this purpose.

But how will this office improve the activity of politicians? What impact will it have on society? These questions have been recurrent since the beginning of the initiative. To answer them, it is convenient to look at three examples of European countries such as the United Kingdom, France or Germany that, for decades, have offices of parliamentary scientific advice.

These offices fulfill a dual purpose: on the one hand, they offer the politicians all the existing scientific knowledge on topics of parliamentary interest and, on the other hand, they anticipate the social challenges that the scientific-technological development will pose in the near future such as the robotics and artificial intelligence, genetic publishing or the development of new energy sources and climate change, allowing the country to prepare legislatively to take advantage of the opportunities at our disposal.

In this way, these offices use to the maximum the networks of talent and scientific-technological knowledge (which also includes the social sciences and humanities). All the information is gathered exhaustively from the review of the existing literature and from complete interviews with experts from all possible sectors (academic, industrial, governmental, NGO, etc.). With this exercise, the offices transfer the knowledge produced by scientific talent networks to the legitimate representatives of society, thus facilitating a greater social return on investment in science and technology.

Likewise, the States that prepare in advance their society adopting new regulatory frameworks before disruptive technologies (new molecular techniques, robotics and artificial intelligence, new materials, etc.) have a favorable economic impact for the creation and/or attraction of companies. These offices can allow greater competitiveness and economic development of their countries.

Therefore, when this independent, rigorous and neutral scientific advice, offered to all parliamentary groups equally, translates into laws, it can have a positive social and economic impact on the country's competitiveness, anticipating even possible social and ethical challenges. An impact of which there are numerous examples and from which all citizens undoubtedly benefit

 The Europe of the future: robots and autonomous cars

According to the European Union, there are more than 1.7 million robots in the world. Thus, in June 2016, as part of its prospective activity, the Scientific and Technological Options Assessment Panel ( STOA ) published a study on the ethical aspects of intelligent robotic systems to inform MEPs about possible ethical concerns and impacts. unintended robotic and artificial intelligence before its imminent arrival.

In February 2017, as a result of this study, the European Parliament would become the first institution to propose a regulation for robots that defines issues such as civil and legal responsibility (crucial for the introduction of autonomous vehicles in cities), the inclusion of ethical code or a possible tax to regulate its use.

 The United Kingdom fights against plastics

In recent years, pollution by plastics in the seas has been the focus of British policy. In 2015, the issue was central to environmental activists and scientists were concerned about the possible toxicological effects of marine microplastics on human health to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology ( POST ).

As a result, two investigations on marine microplastics were opened in parallel: on the one hand, the Parliamentary Commission on Environmental Audit investigated its environmental impact and, on the other hand, the POST analyzed its effect on human health.

In June 2016, thanks to the POST report and the appearance of experts proposed by this office, the aforementioned commission issued its recommendations to the British Government. After an analysis, the Executive banned in 2018 the plastic microbeads in shower gels, exfoliants, and other cosmetic products, since these small plastic spheres end up in the sea damaging the marine flora and fauna. A decision that prevents the deterioration of seas and oceans and the possible consequences for human health due to the consumption of contaminated food. These actions initiated a wave of social awareness that continues with the bottles or with the commitment of 97 companies to eradicate single-use plastics.

 Smart schools in Germany for a digital future

The arrival of digital media to teaching raises dilemmas about its importance and effectiveness. Therefore, in June 2016, the Technological Assessment Office of the German Bundestag ( TAB ) published a report on the challenges of the use of digital media in the classroom and its impact on employability and cultural and social participation.

In November 2016, the first "smart school" was inaugurated in Germany as a pilot project based on efficient digital infrastructure, online learning, appropriate educational concepts, and proper teacher training. In 2017, the MINT-EC association created other pilot schools.

The TAB report and a legislative reform proposed by the federal government were the basic documents for a working meeting on educational digitization, held in October 2018 between the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Research and Technological Assessment and experts from the sector. Thanks to these documents, politicians were able to meet with experts to have more information at their disposal, which can be translated into more informed laws for the benefit of German society.

 A space for permanent interaction between science and politics

Decision making in politics is a complex process that would benefit from access to a source of scientific, independent and neutral information such as that provided by an advisory office. As the POST director, Grant Hill-Cawthorne, describes, "changes in public policies are the result of many forces acting simultaneously over a long period of time," pointing to the difficulty of measuring the direct impact of these offices. However, these examples show how they stimulate social and parliamentary debate by better connecting politicians with scientists and can translate into legislative improvements that revert to society.

These offices contribute to our having a European Union with the necessary legislation to face the challenges of coexistence with robots, the United Kingdom that reduces its contamination by plastics fighting against marine deterioration and its consequences on human health, or a Germany able to lead the educational digitalization training the citizens of tomorrow. This permanent interaction between science and politics is building the pillars on which the societies of future generations will be sustained.

The imminent creation of the scientific advisory office in the Spanish Parliament, partly explained by the good reception of the conference #CienciaenelParlamento 2018 where politicians and scientists debated 12 issues of legislative and social interest, opens the doors to an unexplored and exciting stage in the young, but prepared Spanish democracy. The arrival of this instrument will facilitate a space for debate and foresight with which politics and science but, especially, citizenship and democracy will benefit.