More on Italy’s shameful criminalisation of scientists.
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.
George Monibot discusses the alleged distortion by political interests of scientific advice to the public from government scientists. It is an important issue, well expressed in this piece. I say “allegedly” though, because quotes from scientists are notoriously vulnerable to misinterpretation out of context, and scientists themselves often struggle to get their point across in ways non-scientists (including Mr. Monibot) can understand.
Yet when government scientists unambiguously disagree with their political masters, they can expect to be scorned and even dismissed. Wouldn’t want to be in their shoes…
The UK has a wonderful tradition of public health and safety communication campaigns – who can forget the Dark and Lonely Water ad? Oz has produced a wonderful addition to the genre. This animation published by Australian train company, Metro Trains Melbourne, is called Dumb Ways to Die. The animated safety message uses music and dark humour to warn people against behaving recklessly around trains. According to the song, dumb ways to die include using your private parts as piranha bait. Simply sublime.
This well-considered post in today’s Occam’s Corner blog (hosted by The Guardian) strikes a delicate balance between strident retaliation and gracious acceptance of criticism – while still maintaining an overall air of fury. Continue reading
Seven of Italy’s leading experts on natural disasters have been sentenced to six years each in prison for giving “false assurances” before the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake which killed more than 300 people. Continue reading