Sherlock denies science role clash

A minister has said the Government’s chief scientific adviser (CSA) has no role in science policy and that to claim otherwise was a “lie”.

In an online interview, since taken down, Seán Sherlock described as “a storm in an eggcup” the outcry that followed the Government’s decision to appoint as its chief scientific adviser the man who also heads its science funding agency, Science Foundation Ireland. The merger of the roles effectively ended the independence of the office of the CSA.

“There wasn’t a huge backlash, there were about 20 people I can name,” Mr Sherlock told an interview with sciencecalling.com.

In the interview, which went online on Monday and was removed the next day, the research minister described as a “non-issue” the controversy that surrounded the appointment of Prof Mark Ferguson as CSA while also heading Science Foundation Ireland.

He said there was no conflict of interest and that people should look at the facts before they “got their knickers in a twist”.

Mr Sherlock’s claim that the CSA has “nothing to do with government policy” is at odds with how the role was defined on the Government’s CSA website up until this week.

It said the office was set up “to provide the Government with independent, expert advice on issues related to public science policy.” It now says the role is to “provide high-level advice on scientific issues of concern to Government across the spectrum of disciplines”.

Mr Sherlock said in the interview: “We determine government policy. The CSA does not or has nothing to do with government policy. It is signed off in a democratic process through ministers. That’s where we need to nail this lie.”

The Medical Charities Research Group, which represents up to 20 charities that objected to abolishing the independent office of the CSA, said it was “surprised” by Mr Sherlock’s comments.

Irish scientist James McInerney, who is based in Harvard, said Mr Sherlock was in a difficult position because he was not a qualified scientist and had no background in science.

Prof McInerney, who heard the online interview, said Mr Sherlock’s decision to make the same person responsible for scientific funding and advice was “not popular in the research community” and “not considered best practice internationally”.


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