Explained: The role of Chief Scientific Advisor

Tomorrow Professor Juliet Gerrard from Auckland University will replace Professor Sir Peter Gluckman as the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, who has held the post since its creation 2009.

The office was created by John Key's National Government, who said they wanted to 'put science at the heart of Government'.

It's the highest science position in the land, but what does it actually entail?

Broadly speaking, the Chief Science Advisor advises the Prime Minister on policy decisions relating to science.  

While in some other countries, those in similar positions also act as Chief Science Executives, in New Zealand we ensure the office has no power over policy.

There are five broad areas the office of the Chief Scientific Adviser has historically focused on:

  • Specific inquiries made by the Prime Minister in relation to Ministries with science related budgets (i.e Agriculture)

  • Formally commissioned reports focused on a specific area i.e Meth contamination in houses

  • Promoting public engagement with science

  • Building international relations through interaction with other similar offices globally

  • Informing Government of developments in sciences which they deem to be a possible threat or benefit.

Sir Peter Gluckman recently hit headlines when his report on meth houses found the former Government had made the decision to remove tenants from their homes based on bad science.

While the role is largely independent, it has a 'no-surprises convention', where the Advisor, whether acting in that capacity or as a private citizen, must inform Government of any announcements ahead of time.

Other countries with Government appointed Chief Scientific Advisors include the United Kingdom, Ireland, USA, Australia and Scotland.

Sir Peter approves of his replacement, and has indicated that there will be one further report released which both he and Professor Gerard will have been involved in.

"I am delighted that an outstanding and experienced scientist and science administrator has been appointed. The system is in great hands."

Watch the video for our full interview with Juliet Gerrard.

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