Is the Green Party anti-science?

11:58 am - June 9th 2009

by Martin Robbins    

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Last week, Frank Swain and I wrote a piece for The Guardian in which we questioned the various parties on their science policies ahead of the elections. We heavily criticised the Green Party of England an Wales, in spite of their sparkling climate and environmental credentials, and in doing so kicked off a debate that ran for much of the week on blogs and in The Times. On one side, many people thanked us for exposing deeply troubling attitudes.

On the other, Greens angrily claimed we had misrepresented their views. So are the Green Party anti-science; and if so what should they be doing to correct this?

Frank and I set out to write our article by putting nine science-themed questions to the parties. We knew that our response from the Green Party was going to be interesting when we saw this quote:

“The Green Party, for example, is in favour of increased funding for research on methods of integrated conventional and holistic treatments for cancer. […] We would oppose attempts to regulate complementary medicine, except by licensing and review boards made up of representatives of their respective alternative health care fields.”

As Tim Minchin put it, alternative medicine by definition is medicine that has been proven not to work, or not been proven to work. Alternative medicine that works is called “medicine”. Under the Green Party, money that could be spent researching actual evidence-based treatments for cancer could instead be diverted to quack remedies like homeopathy. Genius. And to say that the $60bn dollar alternative medicine industry needs no external regulation is just moronic. Either their quack remedies have a clinical effect or they don’t; and if they do they should be treated like any other drug.

Their policies on GM and stem cell research were equally confused, and would devastate large areas of biological research in Britain. I’m neither a fanatical supporter nor opponent of GM food; but clearly any new development in GM technology has both risks and benefits. You would think, therefore, that a sensible policy would involving assessing those, and acting based on that information with appropriate regulation, along the lines of the precautionary principle. Apparently not:

“Genetically modified food presents significant and un-quantified risks to human health and the environment. These outweigh any benefits.”

If you don’t know the risks, then how the hell can you claim that they outweight any potential benefits? Surely more research would be the answer in this case? But under Green Party policy, the import of genetically modified organisms would be banned outright, making research all but impossible. It is an incredibly irrational approach, but we we see the same stunt pulled in their policy on stem cell research:

“The Green Party believes that experiments on human embryos could have unforeseen outcomes harmful both to individuals and to society. We would work for an immediate international ban on all cloning and genetic manipulation of embryos, whether for research, therapeutic or reproductive purposes.”

Again, how can you ban all research into something on the basis of unknown consequences? Particularly when research into embryonic stem cells is so vital for progress in treating numerous conditions and diseases? Again, I’m all in favour of using the precautionary principle, but to ban something with known benefits on the basis of unstated “consequences” is just plain ignorant. They would allow the continued use of adult stem cells, but in doing so they appear to have swallowed the myth that these can always act as a substitute for the use of embryonic cells.

In short, while The Greens mean well, we found that their science policies in many areas were a disaster, and so we went ahead and published out results with suitably critical commentary. The response we got back via e-mail from the party press office was frankly unimpressive, and included the following memorable quote:

“Well, what can you say? We have an election platform that is talking about creating 1 million jobs through local food, renewable energy, and energy efficiency … and our lead candidate in the North West is up against Nick Griffin, the BNP’s leader, for the final seat in that region. But the most important thing for you to do is critique our support for alternative medicine?”

No. I’m not having that. I’m not being told that we’re not allowed to criticise Green Party policy in case the BNP get in. It is a miserable gambit designed to evade criticism. As much as I despise and hate the BNP, the idea of giving the Greens a free pass goes against every basic principle of democracy and free speech.

The backlash continued on various blogs, with HolfordWatch taking flak for “misrepresenting” the party. Some of the most intense criticism came in response to an article that Mark Henderson of The Times wrote about our work to leave comments like:

“…the Green Party is not anti-science, as this misleading and extremely biased article is trying to suggest.”

“Please don’t be misled by misrepresentations of our policies.”

“Instead of reading second-hand accounts of what our political opponents say that we say, how about looking about what we actually do say?”

None of these people hurling accusations of bias and misrepresentation at us appeared to appreciate the fact that we had posted their own statements unedited on our blogs, standing next to our commentary for everyone to see. As much as they ranted, few dared to point out specific instances where these terrible misrepresentations had occurred, and when they did they were simply referred back to their own statements.

I am deeply frustrated that, rather than attempting to defend their policies or engage with criticism from scientists, party supporters resorted to mud-slinging.

The fundamental problem is that in the Green Party, anyone can propose a policy, call a vote, and get it accepted in the manifesto. It’s one of those ideas that’s cute in theory, but the fact is that since most members of most parties aren’t likely to have much of a clue about things like modern genetics or cancer research, their policies are based on a popularity contest rather than considered appraisal of the evidence. The truth isn’t democratic, and the whole structure of the party works against the idea of evidence-based policy.

So to be fair to our critics, I don’t think they were being dishonest; they probably did feel that we misrepresented them because it’s unlikely that many party members support the whole manifesto. You probably couldn’t find a Green Party member that their manifesto fully and accurately represented.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike the Greens. I’m a fan of a number of their members, and they’ve done vital work pushing climate change up the national agenda. I have huge respect for figures like Patrick Harvie from the Scottish party. My hope is that by ramming home this message I can encourage them to properly consider their policies.

The first and most important thing for the party to do is to acknowledge that their policies are far out of step with the scientific community. They genuinely don’t seem to realise this, and I suspect this comes from a lack of engagement with actual scientists.

The second thing they need to do then is to engage with the scientific community, and bring evidence back into the policy-making process.

The third, is to build a more coherent set of policies so that their members are all singing from the same hymn sheet, rather than noisily squawking across each other. If they do, then we can begin to take them more seriously. If they don’t they will continue to fall victim to the lunatic fringe.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Martin Robbins works in R&D, solving scientific problems for a small software company while finishing off his Ph.D., which covers immune system simulation and complexity. He blogs at Lay Science
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Green party ,Science ,Westminster

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Reader comments

I think this criticism of our science and technology policies is welcome and I’d like to use it as a spur to action in the Green Party. I’ll make a start in the local party in Liverpool.

I think we (Greens) need to move away from faith-based policy in some areas.

This won’t be a quick process and I totally sympathise with the frustration of our Press Office who were fire-fighting in the middle of an election.

Many thanks for the reply. I genuinely hope that this spurs on some development in Green science policy so that they can present a stronger case – we need more science-based policy advocates in government.

There was an interesting exchange between Dr Ben Goldacre and Sian Berry on Twitter a few days before the election, in which she seemed to extend an invitation to him to help the Greens with a “bad science” audit of their manifestos. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of that. It demonstrates, at least, a willingness to listen and respond to criticism on this issue.

I would argue that the comparatively little damage that alternative medicine does in the UK is evidence that it does not need government regulation (beyond the usual laws of tort). It is woo, but woo doesn’t need regulation, only a free market in ideas and alternatives that expose it as such. Beyond tempering our libel laws, I don’t think it is a major problem.

Of course, it should not be government funded but then nor should ordinary science:

5. theholyllama

I agree entirely with your critique, and as a Green Party member I’m especially disappointed to see the reply from the Press Office suggesting that you have more important things to do than criticise particular aspects of our policy.

I think that John’s response above is likely to be more representative of the response to this within the party than you might believe. Many local parties have become increasingly professional about electoral politics in the last decade, and quite apart from the rights and wrongs of the matter (and we do care about the rights and wrongs!), a lot of local activists will be aware that anything that harms the party’s reputation nationally has a negative effect on their chances of getting people elected to their local council, and will want to see something done about it.

I only have one criticism about what you’ve written. Where you say “You probably couldn’t find a Green Party member that their manifesto fully and accurately represented”, I think it only fair to point out that this isn’t something that could only be said of the Greens. ALL political parties are by their very nature coalitions of people and groups with different views and priorities on different subjects. No-one in ANY political party has their views fully and accurately represented by their party’s manifesto, regardless of the process used to shape that manifesto.

This issue is basically what stops me voting Green. Unresearched and therefore ‘Alternative’ medicine is plain reckless. If the party changes its ideas in this area, I may well join them.

Also Rob mentions Ben Goldacre – Goldacre has written a book ‘Bad Science’ which is mainly about the importance of enhanced public understanding of science and evidence based medicine. It is well worth reading for anyone interested in this area.

Very strong post. You’re the sort of critic the Green Party needs.

Are the Liberal Democrats anti-gay?

No, I don’t think they are, but constructing a headline like that, just as you’ve done, is a classic tabloid smear approach, up there with scare quotes.

Personally, I would advise friends in the English and Welsh party to change their position on homeopathy and stem cell research, and those are not policies the Scottish party shares.

However, there’s plenty of scientific concern about GM crops and release into the wild: cross-pollination and other gene flow simply cannot be undone once you release it. It’s naive to suggest otherwise. We were the first party to listen to the science on climate change, and we’re still the only ones proposing action in line with the science.

The idea that we should have scientists as a whole setting our policy, not party members, is frankly absurd, though. Nuclear scientists want more research into nuclear power, renewables scientists want more research into wind/wave/tidal/solar etc. Scientists studying GM tend to back it (although there are plenty of exceptions), and so on.

It’s up to responsible political parties to express people’s preferences and make choices. These are decisions for society, not just the PhDs amongst us. And I’d take a democratic party making decisions I don’t agree with over some kind of unelected managerialism any day.

@James: “However, there’s plenty of scientific concern about GM crops and release into the wild”

As there should be, but that’s a whole different area to, for example, the study of GMOs in labs. Your arguing something different to Green Party policy.

@James: The idea that we should have scientists as a whole setting our policy, not party members, is frankly absurd, though.

It’s also an argument that nobody has made here.

@james (from the scottish greens)

However, there’s plenty of scientific concern about GM crops and release into the wild: cross-pollination and other gene flow simply cannot be undone once you release it. It’s naive to suggest otherwise. We were the first party to listen to the science on climate change, and we’re still the only ones proposing action in line with the science.

The idea that we should have scientists as a whole setting our policy, not party members, is frankly absurd, though. Nuclear scientists want more research into nuclear power, renewables scientists want more research into wind/wave/tidal/solar etc. Scientists studying GM tend to back it (although there are plenty of exceptions), and so on.

It’s up to responsible political parties to express people’s preferences and make choices. These are decisions for society, not just the PhDs amongst us. And I’d take a democratic party making decisions I don’t agree with over some kind of unelected managerialism any day.

number of questions raised with this post

1) If the science says the risks of GM crops are no more than an equivalent conventional crops would you accept their planting? Would you allow the field trials to determine this in the first place?

2) Do you think scientists studying a phenomena know more about it than the general public? If so, why should their views not be giving more weight?

3) Science is not a democratic discipline, the validity of a theory is not established by votes but by weight of evidence. Would your science policies, established by democratic means, change if the science said they were wrong, but your members continued to believe in them?

11. John Meredith

A good article but I am surprised you did not mention the Greens’ opposition to the use of animals in medical research, which, to my mind, is their most glaringly anti-science position. If we can’t use animals we might as well resort to homeopathy to cure cancer, because we won’t be getting any effective new treatments any time soon.

Yeah, there were a few other areas I could have gone into actually, but limited space and all.

A good article but I am surprised you did not mention the Greens’ opposition to the use of animals in medical research, which, to my mind, is their most glaringly anti-science position.

That can be a moral/ethical position to take (one I agree with) but that doesn’t mean you’re actually anti-science. It just means you try and look for alternatives.

It’s like saying being opposed to use of coal is anti-science because it stops us from producing energy.

On the article itself – I think this sort of constructive criticism is necessary and important. And I don’t agree with the Greens on some of their positions even though I voted for them. But then there’s not a single party I agree with everything on.

However, we need a more sustained attack on the Tories who are much more dangerous than the Greens on the issue. There are a lot of prominent Tories who are are avowedly climate change deniers and if it wasn’t for the fact that Obama was in power in the US, I’d be quite worried about the impact it would have on our environmental policies.

The point you make about the democratic nature of policy-making leading to ignorant populism is an important one – Vernon Bogdanor was on Thinking Allowed this week promoting referendums as a way of forming national policy. Environmentalism is important, and Green policies ought to be informed by science.

The other thing to point out is that many people don’t give a toss about whether the Green party is wrong and stupid about peripheral stuff like GM crops or homeopathy. There are plenty of politicians in mainstream parties, people who actually have the power to do things, who are equally ignorant and irrational.

The Green Party want to abolish zoos. It’s such a ludicrous policy that I find it hard to take anything else they say seriously, but of the many people I’ve spoken to who voted Green in the European elections, not a single one was aware of this stance. This demonstrates the importance of the work Martin and Frank have done in highlighting the parties’ science policy – no one really knows what it is.

Of course, zoos are not an important issue in the grand scheme of things, but it demonstrates the conflict with in the party. On the one hand you’ve got reasonable people working hard to protect the environment, but they are lumped in with the hardcore animal rights wackos. If they could only try and clean themselves up as much as the want to clean the planet, I might actually consider voting for them.

Nicely done, Martin. The whole point of asking these questions of all the parties, was, in my mind, to provoke this kind of discussion between voters and parties. It’s great to see some Green members on hear listening and responding, because I honestly believe they aren’t anti-science, just that many of their policies have evolved in the absence of criticism.

18. Chris Padley

I’m a Green Party member and I think this article is very fair. It is even falling over to be understanding of the problem of trying to be internally democratic over areas that require education or special knowledge. Remember all political leaders pick and chose which of their own party’s poliices they push forward and which they quietly push into the long grass, so take that into account. The “manifesto for a sustainable society” you quote from is essentially a collection of party conference motions. It is not an election manifesto. Having said that, this is thoughtful and reasonable criticism which the party would be foolish to dismiss.

@Sunny Hyundal

Leaving aside animal experimentation*, I take issue with the proposition that all that matters is an assault on the Tories, while I may disagree profoundly with their stance on everything from the economy to Europe they are not anti-science in their manifesto. They do not call for areas of research to be shut off, they do not call for irrational bans on technologies, and they do not let ideology guide evidence. On science the Tories are largely mainstream and correct, if you want to see a viable alternative to the Tories then you have to improve your preferred choice, Greens, in areas where they are weak in comparison.

*on which you are utterly utterly wrong about alternatives – they are technically impossible currently and this will remains so until we can model an entire organism in silico – which will require the sacrifice of 10s of millions of animals to acquire enough knowledge to do so. The debate about the use of animal research is one in which you have the moral worth of animals on one side and the moral worth of scientific research on the other. No animal experimentation means scientific progress is impossible or drastically slowed down to the extent that medical science will not advance.

Gimpy @19:

On science the Tories are largely mainstream and correct,

Except, for example, in their attitude to drug policy: which is just as counter-scientific, counter-evidentiary and counter-intuitive as the New Labour policies have been.

The Tories, like everyone else in politics, think science is a political tool, just as the radical feminist movement believed professional history to be a political tool in the 1970s. “Academic historians operate the ammunition factories, feeding bullets to their sisters on the political front-lines”; equally one could say that to a modern politician, scientists are the statistical generators who provide the scary-sounding numbers which no-one will understand but everyone will respond to when used in propaganda. Because, after all, we know that what scientists say is unbiased, empirical, and rigorously proven, right? Right?

Actual science is about questions, but to the layman, science is an oracular process; men in white coats provide answers which seem, to most modern Westerners, to be as incontestable as a pontifical sermon was to a medieval peasant. The “scientist” is as occluded, and as shrouded in professional mystique, as the medieval Bishop was. The difference is that serious scientists are constantly trying to pierce that veil and teach the general public how to question them adequately. It’s just that the general public don’t want to work that hard. They want a useful authority to which they can appeal, not a learning process with which they can engage.

The professional politicians just want to make sure that whatever the scientific consensus is, there’s at least one think-tank or research body or sociological survey which agrees with them; because then they can claim whatever the hell they want, and those who already want to agree with them will hear and obey. It does nothing for debate, but it’s great for party-building; the cynic might argue that this is further evidence that the existence of parties intrinsically undermines rational debate.

@John Q. Publican

I agree to various degrees with all your arguments. But what the Tories (& Lib Dems & Labour) aren’t doing is ring fencing areas of scientific enquiry and declaring them forbidden, the Greens are.

22. Christopher

@10 – On the contrary science is clearly a democratic discipline. The validity of a theory might depend on objective truth, but its acceptance into the scientific canon is established by the popular agreement amongst scientists with the interpretation of that evidence.

In my opinion science is what politics at its best is: you frame your hypothesis, you test it, you have your conclusions and interpretations reviewed and if you’ve found that something that works you publicise it until it gains acceptance. Then when new information arises your interpretation is amended or discarded and a new one put in place.

I’d like to echo the Greens here who’ve thanked the author for this fair, if critical, article. It is exactly the sort of critique that political parties need – directed at improving policy rather than simply having a pop.

As an aside I think on occasions greens (small g) are accused of being anti-science (over nuclear power or GM for example) when in fact the vast majority of those concerned about these problems are about social and political problems rather than oppoisition to the ‘science’.

In all the GM campaigns I’ve taken part in the main themes are around multi-national corporations, the lies about feeding the world, intellectual property rights and the pressures put upon developing world nations to alter their economy at the dictates of the West. None of these concerns are addressed by labelling greens as anti-science.

There are also some scientifically based critiques of GM usually advanced by GM specialists, but I’m not a scientist and I don’t understand the ins and outs of that but its clear whilst there is no scientific concensus over the use of GM crops, centering on various contraversial aspects, opposition to GM is essentially over the politics of the thing.

So it’s important to seperate out ‘bad science’ from political principles.

Anyway, I hope this episode does initiate a ‘bad science’ audit in the Greens (and other parties) and it’s clear the majority of Green Party members want this. That doesn’t mean people like Ben Goldacre will get to dictate GP policy but if they can highlight problems it will help us with the democratic process of improving our manifesto and policy statements.

Sadly I don’t think this will be entirely controversial and there will be resistance from a significant minority that find it difficult to respond positively to helpful criticism (as the emailed response from the press office indicates).

ps I’m not passionate about this but I think we probably should abolish zoos. Horrible places.

@22 Christopher,
Science isn’t democracy. There are no votes in science and not all opinions are of equal worth, in fact opinions count for very little over time. Theories are determined by weight of evidence not strength of opinion.

On science the Tories are largely mainstream and correct,

Not really – not on abortion, not on climate change etc.

and they do not let ideology guide evidence.

Hah! I’m assuming you saw Nadine Dorries’ attempts to hijack the HFE bill debate with the ‘hand of hope’ that Tim Montgomerie also carried on the ConservativeHome site. That is mainstream Tory thought.


Jim Jay

In all the GM campaigns I’ve taken part in the main themes are around multi-national corporations, the lies about feeding the world, intellectual property rights and the pressures put upon developing world nations to alter their economy at the dictates of the West. None of these concerns are addressed by labelling greens as anti-science.

This is fair enough, but is this really why the Greens don’t like GM? If you are arguing against the business strategies of multinationals then that has nothing to do with their product. Why don’t you use the argument that genetic research should be in the public domain and actively campaign for more GM crops like Golden Rice, which operates under a Humanitarian Use License? If you did this the ‘anti-science’ arguments would be clearly misguided but it frequently seems as if concerns about business practices are being used as a proxy to bash GM.

@25 Sunny

I was referring to manifesto and policy commitments. Show me where the Tories as a party state in official documents that abortion should be banned and climate change is not anthropogenic.

28. John Meredith

“It’s like saying being opposed to use of coal is anti-science because it stops us from producing energy.”

No it isn’t. There are countless non-coal energy alternatives that are well known but there is no alternative to using animals in medical research, except using humans (how does THAT strike you Herr Doktor Mengele?) as Gimpy ably explains above. Personally, I cannot see any possibility of an animal-free research future either, the complexities of any adequate replacement model are likely to be permamently beyond us. If we want new treatements for, say, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and on and on, we need to use animals. The alternative is simply an end to to new treatments. Many people have pointed this out to Carolin Lucas (myself included) but her fingers aare in her ears.

“This is fair enough, but is this really why the Greens don’t like GM?”

The Green Party is a broad political party so I think it would be a mistake to think everyone is coming from the same philosophical starting point. However my experience in different kinds of campaigns is that it’s only the occasional not very involved person at a public meeting or something that voices anti-science views, and when that happens you can tell from the response that it doesn’t cut any ice with people.

I’m all for scientific research (particularly in the field of drugs and health) being open to all, I’m not sure that’s the same thing as the products of all scientific research being in wide spread use as sometimes this would be appropriate and sometimes not.

What you cannot do is seperate out the multi-nationals who controls the product from the product itself when applied to the real world.


Jim Jay, with respect that didn’t answer my question. Would you endorse GM products, such as Golden Rice, which operates under a Humanitarian Use License?

Sorry, wasn’t meaning to dodge it.


I think you’re suggesting that a “Humanitarian Use License” guarentees it is the right thing in the right place for the right reason. I don’t see any evidence for that.

@31 Jim Jay,

OK so is there any license of a GM crop that you would approve, or are you opposed to all GM crops?

(I don’t mind if you are, it just negates your previous argument 23 about opposition to GM being about business practices)

33. Shatterface

(22): People can try to vote out the law of gravity if they want but natural selection will weed out those who jump off a high building in the belief they can fly.

This is a great article and encapsulates all the misgivings I have about the party. They make a vital contribution to world politics but they are also the home of some total cranks.

PS Are they a party of the far-left or far-right?

> Ducks <

As a researcher and teacher in physiology (how the body works!) I’d like to back Gimpy’s comments (especially no. 19 above) about the Green Party’s opposition to animal experiments.

It is one thing to favour development of alternatives to animal use – most scientists do, including the ones who do animal work. But it is simply not possible, either now or for the foreseeable future, to do without animal experiments, and work on animal tissues. Cultured cells do not recapitulate exactly the behaviour of “real” cells, and anyone that tells you they do does not know what they are talking about. When you further add in the complexity of multicellular tissues, and organisms, all the way up to whole animals, you are kidding yourself if you think there is a sensible alternative to animal use. You would not find a biomedical research scientist that did not find the idea wholly ridiculous.

While people like anti-vivisectionists can take a moral position against all animal use, of the kind Sunny Hundal seems to be advocating, it is necessary to understand the implications of this position. The standstill of a vast part of modern biomedical research, or perhaps the wholesale migration of it to other countries than the UK, would in turn cripple UK Universities and various sectors of the economy. It is the kind of non-starter policy that you can only have if you stand no chance whatsoever of being in a position to implement it.

Having said all that, you may be surprised to hear that I have nearly voted for the Greens once or twice.. The “sustainability and conservation” agenda is critically important for all of us, and they have done much excellent work to push it. But as Martin says, they really need to talk urgently to some scientists, medics and technology folk and get some proper insight into these areas.

Very interesting article.

I read your online article last week when someone on here linked to it – I found it very enlightening. I still voted Green though.

A few points:

1) I should imagine that there are few members of ANY party who agree wholeheartedly with every single aspect of a manifesto. I certainly don’t expect to.
2) Just as the democratic policy making structure makes the Greens vulnerable to, erm, eccentric alternative medicine types, it also makes them open to policy changes proposed by less logically-challenged members.
3) As the Greens grow, you’d hope that their policies will be subject to scrutiny (such as your fine work) and will become stronger for it.

@3 I’d be interested to see what Goldacre made of the Green manifesto – he’s a smug git, but a clever smug git.

@Sunny – I’d also be interested to see an analysis of Tory climate change-deniers. Unfortunately this is a fairly popular viewpoint among the general public, I think.

@23 – Agree that for a lot of people concerned about international development, GM is an economic and political problem. (Don’t ask me about Golden Rice, I don’t know anything about it ;-))

37. Planeshift

I’d like to echo the sentiments above, a very good article and its refreshing to see the green party members take the critique seriously and respond reasonably. Sometimes members of political parties take criticism as a personal attack, and defend even the most absurd party line. I’m not a member of the greens, but would probably join if they could emerge as the most pro-science party – which it seems they have the potential to do.

It would be interesting to see the reaction of UKIP members to a similar critique.

Science also has a responsibilty to present its cases in terms ordinary people, who are after all financing it, understand. Too often, science is used indescriminatly by one side or another in a discussion, is often misquoted misleadingly by proponents arguing for directions science should go and its funding. The corporate takeover of scientific direction has led many scientists to take a biased and blinkered view of perseived social benefit that supports their work and careers.
Science has and still does, bring horrors and inhumane ideas into research avenues. Would ordinary people have conceived atomic mutually assured destruction, chemical and germ warfare, continuing branches of which are now let loose on biological cell manipulation. The Green Party, for all its faults, attempts to bring a human direction to the course of scirntific research. It disposes with the argument that the purpose of science is the pursuit of profit, but rather the absolute benefit of the biosphere, not, one bit’s good, therefore one bit bad is OK. It respects the survival of fellow organisms, arguing against the violence to other creatures scientists maintain is necessary to develop and benefit their profit driven employers. As with economics, science has been misled into abstract avenues that are attractive to slaves of GDP, rather than a fulfilling role in complimenting the acheivment of increasing human happiness.


thank you very much for this article. My experience with the Greens is not the most encouraging, but I’m talking about the Spanish and the Italian left. Science has a more prominent space in the British public debate, and I’m more hopeful here. The move to Green-life-style-holier-than-thou-consumerism politics has been disastrous for the Spanish left. Anti-science and irrationality are rampart and Marxism-Leninism has given way to eco-Stalinism. I introduced some question (like nuclear power) and was treated with contempt. The problem with anti-science stances in politics is that you can only supported dogmatically… and dogmatism is the last thing the left needs… I welcome your debate and hope its renders fruits.

Hi Sunny, great article about the BIP on Cif! keep up the good work!

@3: There was an interesting exchange between Dr Ben Goldacre and Sian Berry on Twitter a few days before the election, in which she seemed to extend an invitation to him to help the Greens with a “bad science” audit of their manifestos.

I hope the Green Party looks again at their policies and removes the ones that go against science. If they do so, it’ll help the Green Party, but more importantly it’ll help the whole body politic.

Science is the great success story of Western Civilisation. If you are against science, you are saying you don’t believe in reality.

For reference, the whole Science and Technology policy is here:

although some of the specific policies referred to above may be elsewhere in the manifesto.

Some highlights…

“The current rush to explore at all costs should be tempered by an awareness of what kinds of discovery might have the potential to lead to harm to people, the planet, or life thereon, and might be beyond the capability of today’s society to control.”

Feel the fear. But most or all good discoveries have the potential to do harm. And uncontrollable can be good – eg freedom on the internet.

Also. ST220,223 seems to suggest that even the most value free hard science, astronomy, say, needs the same sort of per project ethics board approval as clinical or animal research. And this process will “add social purpose to their motivation.” Eww.

The ST30xs seem to be saying that most of our technology is a bad idea, and ST320-341 sets up a bureaucracy to make the correct technological choices.

I’d sum it all up like this: A compromise between a wholly bucolic vision, and support for science and technology, achieved by supporting only that science and technology that fits our purposes, as deemed by the bureaucracy.

Disturbed by Green science policies:
written by an 8 year old and/or Daily Mail reader with no concept of science

The big problem of democracy is that the people aren’t always right – especially when decisions demand understanding of complex or specialist issues. In mainstream politics the notion of representation puts the people at one remove from decision making for practical reasons, but also to address this weakness. Perhaps the best way to minimise the problem of democracy in this instance, however, is to educate and inform Green Party members about scientific method and evidence-based medicine.

Well said Charlie at #40.

Martin Robbins, to focus on the complimentary and alternative medicine question first, as far as I can see, your guy only said complimentary medicine would not need regulating. There’s a difference between complimentary and alternative. I don’t think there is a strong case for regulating complimentary medicine at the same level as conventional medicine because it’s used alongside conventional treatment simply to relieve symptoms. Complimentary therapies includes things like aromatherapy, yoga and acupuncture. If they need regulating to the same degree as medicine then we’d better shut down all the spa’s and beauty therapy salons. Alternative medicine is used instead of conventional so this should definitely be regulated but I can’t find anywhere in their policy pages that says they wouldn’t have it regulated. I certainly support the Greens policy to make it available. Call it quackery all you like but our industrialised and chemicalised environment is the cause of much of our ailments. It’s been suggested that cancer is a disease of civilisation and when you look at the bigger picture, it’s not hard to believe. There are tribes out there that have never been touched by the Western diet and lifestyle . . . and they’ve never been touched by cancer. Food for thought. (sorry)

You know, we’re so happy to trust the drug industry and we readily accept all the prescription drugs that our GP’s eagerly dispense without considering alternatives or looking into the possibility that our illness may be better treated without the use of chemicals. And nothing of course, to do with the incentives that the pharma’s provide for dishing out their drugs. That said, some GP’s are becoming interested in alternative medicine. My own GP chooses alternatives for herself whenever she can.

The animal testing issue, the Greens say they would invest money into researching and using alternative methods of testing. This can hardly be called anti-science. The research into alternative methods involves science too.

Dr Aust, #35 – have you ever heard of Mattek? Some research centres are really striving to phase out the lab rat and it’s looking quite promising:

And research universities in Britain surely needn’t suffer. They are well capable of developing superior and highly competitive research centres in for non-animal alternatives.

I don’t imagine there are many who would accept that animal testing for products such as cosmetics and toiletries is justifiable so it’s worth mentioning that the greens (amongst other groups eg Lib Dems) actively and successfully campaigned for this to be totally banned in the EU (the ban came into effect just a couple of months ago).

No-one can argue that animal experimentation hasn’t been invaluable in the past and indeed, even newer alternative methods will often rely on information previously obtained from animal testing. But we can all surely agree that the ultimate goal now is to phase it out altogether and as unrealistic as that might seem to some, fact is, there has been progress made and we should strive to build on that. Alas, while animal testing remains more profitable, the multi-nationals will keep on trying to sabotage the pursuit of non-human alternatives.

Money is the motive for a lot of animal testing. The vivisection industry is huge and and it’s in many-a-corporate-interest to keep the public believing that we wholly rely on animal testing to help save babies and children – you know, the emotive ‘the mouse or the child’ ultimatum. Yes, you could argue that profits are irrelevant if it does save lives but is it really necessary on such vast levels? It’s rather poignant that often, those who shout the loudest in support of animal experimentation are the ones who profit financially the most from it. I’d hate to see it continued as and when it becomes no longer necessary, at least on such a large scale, I mean I’d hate to see animal testing regulations dictated by profiteering multi-nationals (big-pharma, agriculture, cosmetics, animal-breeders).

As for the Greens pledge to abolish zoo’s, this is a good thing. People argue that they are educational and that it’s the only way that our kids can see wild animals etc. but quite apart from the sheer cruelty of keeping a wild animal caged, we are very limited in what we can learn from animals in captivity. It’s not hard to understand that they do not act the same when they are away from their natural environment. I fully agree with conservation centres because they are vital to protect endangered species although a great number of them wouldn’t be endangered if it wasn’t for human meddling.

45. Shatterface

I’d like to echo some of the comments above: not only was the original article excellent but most of the responses from Green supporters themselves have shown a shown a willingness to accept criticism in the constructive manner it was intended in a way which few other parties would have done.

I won’t vote for you (yet) but respect is due.

@43: For reference, the whole Science and Technology policy is here:

I’ve just read this and Oh. My. Fucking. God.; These. People. Are. Deeply. Batfuck. Insane.

And to think I almost voted for them in the Euro election. I’m glad I didn’t.

I feel a blog post coming on…

I’d just like to add my voice to those of the many Greens who have already thanked you for this critique. Our science policy is flawed in many areas and in urgent need of overhauling: though, as has been pointed out above, the very excess of democracy that led to the occasional Luddite policies also makes it easier to start a debate about getting rid of them.

@47: I feel a blog post coming on…

OK, I’ve written my critique of the Green Party’s science policy. Here’s the summary:

There’s some good stuff in the Greens’ science and technology policy, but it tends to be surrounded by a lot of nonsense that reads like it was written by p