Gagging Scientists and Academics, Eliminating Critical Debate: Britain’s Proposed Rules

Région : ,

Has the British political establishment had an atrophying episode on the science front?  Suggestions that this might be the case came last week when there were suggestions that a gag of Britain’s scientists might be in the works. The Cabinet Office had busied itself with proposals in February that, if implemented, would prevent organisations from using tax-payer funds to lobby parliamentarians.

Initially, the ban would have covered academics, effectively eliminating them from the public debates on such matters as transport, genetic modification, stem-cell research, climate change and energy.[1]  It would also effectively siphon and control the award of grant money in tighter fashion.

The point would be to target the logical conclusions to be drawn from certain research that might, just might, lead to a particular policy change. The more relevant the research, the greater the need to keep matters shut. The perverse outcome of such a move would be to effectively open the field to various lobby groups keen on skewing the angle and controlling the discussion.

As Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy argued, such changes would “make it much more difficult for independent university experts to advise ministers and civil servants, and hence make it easier for lobbyists, companies and campaign groups to divert policies towards vested interests instead.”[2]  In such an abhorrent vacuum, the disgusting will thrive.

This prompted a storm of protest from a group that all too readily capitulates in the face of government bullying.  Up to 20,000 academics signed a petition taking aim at the policies, and asking for an exemption.  The confusion was compounded by a blurring between the lines of lobbying and scientific research.

On Tuesday, Lord Bridges of Headley, parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet Office, announced that exemptions would be put in place with respect to national academies, research councils and the Higher Funding Council for England.

As astronomer royal Martin Rees observed, the delay in making the exemption was baffling.  “This clarification is welcome but should have come sooner.  It’s regrettable that it was preceded by months of confusion and ambiguity that generated needless anxiety, ill-feeling and time-wasting.” In the cautious words of Sarah Main of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, “We now need to the detail right to make sure this solution works for all government and all of science.”

Gagging the loquacious scientist has been the business of authorities for centuries. Galileo’s views on celestial matters were shut up because of attitudes distinctly at odds with the Church (Less known is the fact that he was not quite as radical in knowledge as others make out.)

Modern democracies have certainly been twitchy on the subject of allowing scientists to speak readily.  They are the moral irritants who wish to see the record kept accurate.  In 2013, Canadian scientists were given a good old dressing down in cases where they apparently spoke without ministerial approval.[3] The tendencies were already being observed as far back as 2008.

The measure was motivated in large part by the Harper government’s persistent love affair with extractive industries, though its consequences were far reaching in their absurd applications.

Portrait of GalileoCanadian biologist Steve Campana gave an example of how extensive the ban was in a discussion with CBC News.  Something as seemingly inoffensive as discussing techniques behind aging a lobster, a point applicable to the fishing industry, could not see the light of public discussion.[4]

Another scientist in Canada’s employ, pseudonymously named Janet, told Motherboard about the screening conducted by a “media officer” of her work.[5]  These officers were naturally faceless creatures, operating a general account, and filtering, editing and adjusting information at will.

There were “a list of ‘hot-button’ issues that can’t be mentioned, like climate change, or the oil sands.”  This went so far as to urge the particular scientist in question to refrain from using specific phrases or any matter linking the findings to an industry.

The effect of such none-too-subtle gagging (or muzzling, as it has been termed) was to effectively reduce such scientists as Janet to a state of unwarranted imbecility.   Ignorance had to be feigned for the greater government good.  “They’ve told me: ‘Say you don’t know the answer to that question,’ even if I do.  They make me look like an idiot.”

The freshly-elected Trudeau government has repealed the measure. Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, made the point that “government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public.  We are working to make government science fully available to the public and will ensure that scientific analyses are considered in decision making.”[6]

Good for Trudeau and his new government, but the recent behaviour in Britain on matters of lobbies remains a potential threat to broader discussions of science.  Even in bastions of democratic discussion, enemies of enlightenment can thrive with viral menace.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: [email protected]









Articles Par : Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Avis de non-responsabilité : Les opinions exprimées dans cet article n'engagent que le ou les auteurs. Le Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation se dégage de toute responsabilité concernant le contenu de cet article et ne sera pas tenu responsable pour des erreurs ou informations incorrectes ou inexactes.

Le Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation (CRM) accorde la permission de reproduire la version intégrale ou des extraits d'articles du site sur des sites de médias alternatifs. La source de l'article, l'adresse url ainsi qu'un hyperlien vers l'article original du CRM doivent être indiqués. Une note de droit d'auteur (copyright) doit également être indiquée.

Pour publier des articles de en format papier ou autre, y compris les sites Internet commerciaux, contactez: [email protected] contient du matériel protégé par le droit d'auteur, dont le détenteur n'a pas toujours autorisé l’utilisation. Nous mettons ce matériel à la disposition de nos lecteurs en vertu du principe "d'utilisation équitable", dans le but d'améliorer la compréhension des enjeux politiques, économiques et sociaux. Tout le matériel mis en ligne sur ce site est à but non lucratif. Il est mis à la disposition de tous ceux qui s'y intéressent dans le but de faire de la recherche ainsi qu'à des fins éducatives. Si vous désirez utiliser du matériel protégé par le droit d'auteur pour des raisons autres que "l'utilisation équitable", vous devez demander la permission au détenteur du droit d'auteur.

Contact média: [email protected]