For scientists in a democracy, to dissent is to be reasonable

A challenging column from George Monibot, in which he opines that government policy is so often in utter conflict with prevailing scientific knowledge that being strident in dissent is the only reasonable position for scientists to take. He refers to the views of Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the UK’s Department for Environment, who reportedly said scientists should be:

“…the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena… [or risk] a chronically deep-seated mistrust of scientists that can undermine the delicate foundation upon which science builds relevance… [and] could set back the cause of science in government… [scientists should avoid] suggesting that policies are either right or wrong… [and should only speak out through] embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

It is hard not to sympathise with George. In these selective quotes, Boyd comes across as a mealy-mouthed turncoat, abandoning scientific principles and ethics to opportunistically curry favour with his political masters. David Nutt, he is not.

Tragically however, his words, slimy though they seem, are not entirely devoid of a Machiavellian sense.  George is an advocate of the firebrand protest on many issues, but the dark art of changing minds and winning arguments through more subtle strategies cannot be dismissed out of hand. The problem is, Boyd’s blatant promotion of such tactics triggers a knee-jerk revulsion in those who naively wish politics and policy-making were purer pursuits and all decisions would be evidence-based.

For scientists in a democracy, to dissent is to be reasonable | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian.

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