Sat, Oct 05, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Scientific reason is being replaced by political propaganda

Academic integrity is being crushed on behalf of corporate power by the UK’s chief scientific adviser, but the stakes are too high for political games with truth

By George Monbiot  /  The Guardian, LONDON

There’s one consolation: Boyd, in his efforts to establish a tinpot dictatorship, has not yet achieved the control enjoyed by his counterparts in Canada. There, scientists with government grants working on any issue that could affect industrial interests — tar sands, climate change, mining, sewage, salmon farms, water trading — are forbidden to speak freely to the public. They are shadowed by government minders and, when they must present their findings, given scripts to memorize and recite. Dozens of turbulent research programs and institutes have either been cut to the bone or closed altogether.

In Australia, the new government has chosen not to appoint a science minister. Tony Abbott, who once described man-made climate change as “absolute crap,” has already shut down the government’s climate commission and climate change authority.

However, at least Australians are fighting back: the climate commission has been reconvened as a non-governmental organization, funded by donations. In Britain we allowed the government to shut down the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission with scarcely a groan of protest.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government claimed that the tiny savings it made were required to reduce the deficit. Yet somehow it manages to fund a lavish range of planet-wrecking programs.

The latest is the Center for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas, just launched by the Natural Environment Research Council. Its aim is “to support the oil and gas sector” by providing “focused training” in fracking, in exploiting tar deposits and in searching for oil in polar regions. In other words, it is subsidizing fossil fuel companies while promoting climate change. How many people believe this is a good use of public money?

To be reasonable, when a government is manipulating and misrepresenting scientific findings, is to dissent. To be reasonable, when it is helping to destroy human life and the natural world, is to dissent. As Julien Benda argued in La Trahison des Clercs, democracy and civilization depend on intellectuals resisting conformity and power.

A world in which scientists speak only through minders and in which dissent is considered the antithesis of reason is a world shorn of meaningful

democratic choices. You can judge a government by its treatment of inconvenient facts and the people who expose them. This one does not emerge well.

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