This week nine environmental charities (including Greenpeace) wrote to Jean-Claude Junker requesting the abolition of the position of Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the European Commission.
The scientific community rallied together to write counter-letters to Mr Junker, speaking out in support of the Chief Scientific Advisor position and its role in evidence-based policy making. I’m pleased to say that I’m a member of two organisations which signed one of these letters.
The environmental organisations particularly objected to the views of the current Scientific Advisor (Professor Anne Glover) on GM crops, specifically her claims that there is scientific consensus about their safety. They have 297 signatories from scientists who believe this isn’t the case. This raises questions of what a scientific consensus is but seems rather feeble compared to the organisations who have spoken about their safety (some are referenced in counter letters).
I liked this quote from Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society: “There will always be those who attack the messenger because they do not like the message but when that message is backed up by the scientific evidence, politicians should be smart enough to listen to the independent scientific experts.”
It’s sadly not hard to find examples of politicians tackling inconvenient advice by getting rid of scientists (David Nutt’s advice on illegal drugs springs to mind). It is, however, worrying that members of the environmental lobby should be keen to adopt this tactic.
The scientific community were quick to support Professor Glover, though back-up was less forthcoming when she went on to do an Owen Patterson. She called opposition to GM as ‘madness’, which in my opinion is not a vast improvement on ‘wicked’.
I was more impressed by a completely unrelated article, with a summary that included: ‘Belittling deep-held concerns won’t alleviate fears or convince doubters’.
Apologies if anyone read the title and hoped I would be talking about a meeting between Jean-Claude Junker, Greenpeace and a well-known band. I wish I was, but to my knowledge that’s yet to happen. Hmmm, short story material?