The mandate letter for Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan specifies that the position of a Chief Science Officer be created. This, the letter states, is to ensure that government science is available to the public, that scientists are free to speak about their work, and that science is consulted in the government’s policy-making. However, the letter does not describe the details of this position. Minister Duncan’s office has acted well to engage in extensive consultations with members of the science and innovation community, as well as a few other international institutions, to identify the best approach to the appointment of a Chief Science Officer. Minister Duncan deserves praise for this consultative approach.

While many within the scientific community were thinking of a science Advisory role, similar to one Canada had between 2004 and 2007, others expected a CEO of government science. In what follows, I describe the distinctions between the two positions, Chief Science Officer (CSO) and Chief Science Advisor (CSA). It is crucial that any position created begin with clear expectations.

This table outlines some of the main differences between the two positions.

Chief Science Officer (CSO)

Chief Science Advisor (CSA)

Responsible for capacity development of the overall science enterprise or government science

Responsible for providing independent scientific advice to the Prime Minister and the cabinet

Advise the Minister of Science

Advise the Prime Minister

CEO of Science Enterprise/ or Government Science (depending on the extension of mandate)

No Formal Executive Responsibility

Functions as part of the Ministry of Science and or Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED)

Independent, Arm’s Length office, functioning under the PMO, or the PCO,

Jurisdiction: Policy for Science

Jurisdiction: Science for Policy

Ensures the well-being of the science enterprise, its management, coordination, and collaboration, domestically and internationally

Provides the best scientific advice on emerging matters for high-level decision-making.


It is important to recognize which one of the two the Minister wishes to adopt; either a CEO for science (a CSO), who is in charge of the well-being of the overall science enterprise and ensures coordination at the national level, across departments/sectors/ and various levels of governments, and will act as a conduit for science; or a science Advisor (a CSA) to the Prime Minister and the cabinet, who provides high level science advice to our highest political offices, and does not bare any executive position.

The CSO is the CEO and spokesperson for science, and must be the strongest advocate and champion for science. In contrast, the CSA is the champion of science for policy, that is, someone who provides the best scientific information for the highest political offices, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, in a timely fashion. The person holding this role must remain neutral, and only provide scientific advice on emerging issues to the Prime Minister and the cabinet. It is obvious that this is not a one-person operation; an Advisor needs an extended office that provides frequent scientific briefs on emerging issues.

However, we should be mindful that there are not always clear and absolute lines differentiating the responsibilities between the two positions. There are examples of duties that apply to both roles. In understanding and clearly defining these positions, it will be important to learn from, and adopt best practices from other countries. Pertinent models from a sample of countries are listed in the appendix.

I believe that in Canada we need both of these positions.

  1. A Chief Science Advisor who has an extended office on the scale of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in the US, or our own Science Council, but who reports directly to the Prime Minister and the cabinet on emerging issues.
  2. A Chief Science Officer or Officers for federal government departments, to ensure better coordination, integrity, and the expansion of the government science enterprise, reporting to the Minister of Science.

Given that the issue of evidence-based decision-making is a priority for this government, to ensure the government policy making is in fact based on, or informed by, scientific facts, the Chief Science Officer has another important responsibility. The CSO can also ensure the adoption of mechanisms and practices through which government policy-making is based on and/or informed by scientific information.

The entire process is a sign of new era in the relationship between science and public policy at all levels of government. Input from various members of the community, and analysis by experts in the field, can significantly increase the chance of success and ensure that it is a good fit for the Canadian government.

We are all excited to see how this is evolving, and how it will turn out.



Pertinent models. Good practices from other countries are listed:

Chief Science Advisors

UK: Government Office for Science*

Every government department has a chief scientific Advisor (CSA). Departmental CSAs work together under the leadership of the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor to support each other and to address and advise on cross-cutting issues. They do this primarily through the Chief Scientific Advisors network. The network advises the Government Chief Scientific Advisor on all aspects of policy on science and technology.

In particular, they:

  1. Provide advice to ministers, through the Cabinet committee system
  2. Discuss and facilitate implementation of policy on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
  3. Identify and share good practices in STEM-related areas, including the use of scientific advice in policy-making
  4. Facilitate communication on particular high profile STEM-related issues and those posing new challenges for government

* Reference:


USA: Office of Science and Technology Policy*

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is a department of the United States government, part of the Executive Office of the President (EOP), established by the United States Congress in 1976, with a broad mandate to advise the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The mission of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is threefold.

  1. To provide the President and his senior staff with accurate, relevant, and timely scientific and technical advice on all matters of consequence;
  2. To ensure that the policies of the Executive Branch are informed by sound science
  3. Too ensure that the scientific and technical work of the Executive Branch is properly coordinated so as to provide the greatest benefit to society.

*References: and


New Zealand: Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor*

The primary task of the Chief Scientific Advisor is to provide the Prime Minister strategic and operational advice on science and science policy issues. Other tasks include:

  1. Advise on matters of science policy in areas where the Prime Minister specifically requests.
  2. Advise Prime Minister on specific matters related to science
  3. Promote the public understanding of, and engagement with, science, particularly with young people.
  4. Build international relationships. Science can be an important diplomatic tool, generating trust and confidence between nations and opening strategic opportunities for cooperation.
  5. Serve as a conduit of alerts that might arise where scientific progress shows either opportunity or threat for New Zealand.



Scotland: Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor*

The Chief Scientific Advisor is supported by the Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor (OCSA). OCSA currently comprises two small teams entitled Science in Government and Science in Society. The former provides general support to the CSA across her/his many roles, while the latter supports science and society initiatives through the science centre’s network and other public outreach programmes. The CSA:

  1. Champions science and ensures science is harnessed more effectively to benefit Scotland’s economy and quality of life
  2. Promotes excellence in science and secures a stimulating and rewarding future for Scotland in the global community
  3. Develops better engagement with science by society
  4. Ensures that scientific evidence informs government policy



Chief Science Officer


Australia: Chief Scientist*

The Chief Scientist reports to the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science and also works closely with the Prime Minister both in his role as Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Science Council and in order to provide detailed scientific advice. The Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) is part of the Department of Industry and Science.

  1. The Chief Scientist is responsible for advising the Government of Australia on scientific and technological issues.
  2. Australia’s Chief Scientist provides high-level independent advice to the Prime Minister and other Ministers on matters relating to science, technology and innovation. They also hold the position of Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Science Council to identify challenges and opportunities for Australia that can be addressed, in part, through science.
  3. The Chief Scientist has the opportunity to help bring together extensive national and international scientific networks to assist in providing the most up to date and scientifically robust advice. Through international networks the Chief Scientist is also able to help discuss and affect this at a global level

*References: and


USA: Chief Technology Officer* /National Science and Technology Council

The Chief Technology Officer of the United States (CTO), formally known as the Assistant to the President, Associate Director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy is a position created within the Office of Science and Technology Policy by President Barack Obama. The CTO will be using applied technology to help create jobs, reduce the costs of health care and help keep the nation secure. He or she is also tasked with increasing Americans’ access to broadband.

The Associate director of this office is colloquially known as the President’s Science Advisor as mentioned above.




Quebec: Chief Scientific Officer

The mandate of the Chief Scientist in Quebec is to advise the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Science on matters pertaining to the development of research and science, in order to ensure Québec’s position and influence at Canadian and international levels.

The four mandates of the Chief Scientist are:

  1. To advise the Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade on matters pertaining to the development of research and science
  2. To chair the Boards of Directors of each of the three research funds
  3. To coordinate issues of common concern to the three funds and cross-sectoral research activities
  4. To ensure the consolidation and integration of the three research funds’ administrative activities.