30/04/04

Britain’s aid policy ‘lacks science expertise’

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Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) is failing to give adequate emphasis to science in its aid policies and activities, according to the government’s chief scientific advisor.


Speaking this week to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, David King said that DFID should recruit a senior science advisor from the ‘hard sciences’ to lead the development of scientific research in the department. His comment is being widely seen as criticism of the high proportion of social scientists employed by the department in research-related positions.


“It is very important that we have the proper [scientific] advice base within DFID,” King said. Such a role is necessary, he added, “to develop a coherent policy for international development based on an understanding of what science, engineering and technology can bring … and to develop a research policy to back it up”.


His words echo criticism of DFID released earlier this year by the Royal Society, the country’s top scientific organisation, in written evidence to the committee, which is carrying out an inquiry on the use of science in development policy (see UK aid policy ‘should make better use of science’)


King also called for government departments to work together on the issue of science in developing countries. He said that DFID had tended to act independently of other government departments, but that the idea was beginning to emerge that all departments should “pull together on this”.