Sunday, 21 February 2016

Science and Control


There is no doubt that scientists can be as whacky, deluded, devious and self-serving as any other group in our society. Having said that, I am disturbed by reports of plans to write a new clause into UK government-funded grants, effectively banning their holders from campaigning from changes to the 'law' on the basis of their findings (www.the guardian.com/2016/feb/20/scientists-attack-muzzling-government-state-funded-cabinet-office). The claim is that (like the embargo placed on charities) government-provided money should not be used for the campaigning but, in such cases, it would be very difficult to 'unpick' precisely what funds had actually been used. So, if a scientist, thought that particular legislation or policy was having detrimental effects on an issue (e.g. endangering human health, decimating important natural habitats or adding to growing environmental concerns), they would not be allowed to say so too loudly. Science is, however, mean't to encourage its participants to report what they think their data means as well as providing other scientists with the means to check the conclusions (without career-development and funding issues being major factors). That is already difficult when much of research is funded by commercial interests (I totally advocate recipients, in such cases, making it very clear where the support came from as there is clearly a possibility of bias creeping in). I appreciate that I am a 'dinosaur' but I used to think that the small amounts of money that universities used to put aside annually for staff to do genuinely independent research was an important safeguard for society.

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Pat Bateson

I have just noted the obituary of Sir Patrick Bateson 1938-2017 ( https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/14/sir-patrick-bateson-ob...