Are Europe’s polluters demanding more scrutiny of their operations? Well, unsurprisingly, no, but industry lobbyists putting pressure on the European Commission to increase the power of its chief scientific adviser does sound topsy-turvy.

What the lobbyists have realised is that the more you concentrate scientific advice into the hands of one person, the easier it is to control the science. If on top of this that person is unaccountable and allowed to keep any advice secret, then that makes the job of anyone who wants to manipulate science even easier.

A scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories tests industrial waste water samples

 This is why Greenpeace, alongside other environmental and health NGOs, has called into question the role of the Commission’s scientific adviser. As a result, and not for the first time, we are accused of being anti-science.

As someone who has dedicated the last 27 years to scientific research for Greenpeace, working with a variety of scientist colleagues across the globe, I find this accusation ridiculous. Science is the basis for all Greenpeace campaigns.

When we warn about the dangers of carbon emissions, we do so because of overwhelming scientific evidence on the dangers of climate change. When we point our finger at a global clothing company that is polluting rivers, we back it up with field and lab research into waste discharges from the factories of their suppliers the leaching of toxic chemicals from the clothes they make. When we warn about the dangers of GM crops, we do so because of scientific concerns about their negative environmental impact.

The idea that one person can accurately represent scientific knowledge in hundreds of fields is hopelessly optimistic. In fact, it makes it less likely for science to be at the heart of EU policy-making.

In the UK, several government scientists have come under fire for misleading the public and conveniently backing up the agendas of the politicians who appointed them – agendas dictated by corporate lobbyists.

The situation in Brussels is no different. In the face of strong public opposition to GM crops and a divided scientific community, the Commission’s scientific adviser has repeatedly claimed that GM crops have no adverse effects on the environment.

While the scientific adviser has spent a good amount of her time in high profile advocacy, the Commission's credibility on scientific advice – surely a key aspect of a scientific adviser’s role – has been undermined by, for example, a failure to address glaring discrepancies between scientific advice and policy on the impact of biofuels.

Another failure is the lamentable evidence process to model policy on energy, where the key PRIMES model that the Commission uses is run without any of the wider science and stakeholder community able to interrogate the numbers it comes up with, or be told what assumptions are being put into the model. This is a shockingly poor approach, yet there seems to be neither the remit nor the inclination for the chief scientific adviser to do anything about it.

The experience so far clearly shows that having a single scientific adviser for the whole of EU policy-making risks undermining the diversity of research by different EU policy departments. Instead of concentrating power at the top, the best model to ensure science informs policy-making is to establish an open, diverse and transparent system.

To those who are genuinely convinced about giving science a central role in policy-making, I say we share the same conviction. Scientific scrutiny in policy-making is essential. The question is how to ensure that policy-makers receive the best representation of wide-ranging and transparent scientific advice.

We welcome a debate on how to put science at the heart of European politics.

Dr. Paul Johnston

Head of the Greenpeace Science Unit