Senior Fellow, ISSP, uOttawa
With the 4th conference of the International Network of Government Science Advisors (INGSA) currently taking place in Montreal, it is worth recalling the earlier work of such structured, global science advisory gatherings.
In the 1980s and 90s, a tireless, passionate personality and philanthropist by the name of William T. Golden, a former advisor to President Truman on science advice and Carnegie Commission board member, had been actively engaged in writing about science advice to US Presidents. He was also behind efforts to build the capacity of the science advisory apparatus across the globe, orchestrating a special meeting of science advisors to heads of government within the Americas in 1991, and influencing various reports on the relations between foreign policy and science statecraft.
Building on his extensive networks, and under the aegis of the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government, Golden and others began discussions about what to do about improving exchanges of good practice within global science advice. Golden suggested that the Commission convene a meeting of science advisors and ministers of science of the G7 countries, the European Union (EU), and Russia. He had consulted D. Allan Bromley, the Canadian-born assistant for science and technology to George H.W. Bush, for his views as well. Bromley had agreed with the concept, and in 1991 the Carnegie Group of Science Advisors to Presidents and Prime Ministers was born.
The first two 1991 meetings, held in Mount Kisco, New York, were co-chaired by Bush’s science advisor, D. Allan Bromley, and Yuri Osipyan, the science advisor to the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. They continued informal, off the record meetings alternating in various locales across the world, including in Canada several times.
The photo below (with RCMP) is from the Vancouver Island Carnegie meeting of June 2005 with Golden (in front middle chair) and Ministers’ science advisors from Canada (Dr Arthur Carty, the host), Germany, UK, USA, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the EU.
The group eventually expanded beyond the G8 and included other emerging economies. The science advisors of Canada and the UK teamed up with host Germany’s science and research minister in inviting several science ministers from Africa at the 2006 Leipzig Carnegie meeting to help strengthen the science policy and advisory capacity with that continent. And for the first time in its history, a Carnegie meeting was held in South Africa in 2011 to put forward a plan on improving the status of science advice on that continent.
Over the years, many other urgent topics were tabled for further debate and action among the group, including climate change, sustainable development, terrorism, large scale research infrastructures, science diplomacy, disaster and emergency response, and water security.
For example, it was a discussion from the Carnegie Group meeting in 1999 in Japan on the ethical and legal limits in biotechnology that would trigger a larger debate and consensus on banning reproductive cloning.
The December 2005 Carnegie Group meeting in New York featured a presentation from the United Kingdom’s chief scientific advisor—Sir David King—on its foresight project addressing emerging infectious diseases. This was a remarkable effort looking over the horizon in predicting outbreaks, detection, and monitoring in human, plant, and animal diseases; it presaged epidemics that would later emerge such as Ebola and the current Covid crisis.
Golden believed strongly in the public welfare, was self-effacing and had a wonderful sense of humour. Tellingly, while he was at all of the meetings from 1991 until the Leipzig gathering in 2006, he remained an observer to the Carnegie discussion. But his guidance of Carnegie was ever present. Thirty years later, the Carnegie Group still gathers.
So as we look today to the ever-growing club of science advisory bodies represented through INGSA and other organizations, and tackle—with sound knowledge—new wicked global challenges, let us recall the remarkable drive and foresight of the Golden legacy.