The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science


9:02 am - June 8th 2012

by Adam Ramsay    


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The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party. Party policy commits 1% of GDP to public funding for science research.

Whilst Labour, Lib Dems and Tories increasingly demand that researchers demonstrate the immediate commercial viability of their work, Greens argue that we should fund science for its own sake, because discovery is key to civilisation.

Even on areas where we once were a little wobbly, various conference motions in recent years mean we can now be proud of our polices.

We’ve ended our bizarre opposition to stem cell research. Whilst Labour, Tories and Lib Dems have been happy to allow the NHS to keep funding homeopathy, Green policy says that the NHS should only fund medicine which has a clear scientific evidence base for its efficacy.

I say all of this because Green Party AM Jenny Jones recently caused yet more controversy by supporting activists taking action against GM trial crops, and some of the science lobby have jumped back on the attack – Greens are anti-science, they say – this proves it once more.

For many of us in the party, this accusation is maddening. It is true that there are some Green members wedded to old hippy views of scientific research – people who believe in homeopathy or acupuncture. But this strand is not unique to the Green Party – the main Parliamentary advocate of the quack cure corporate lobby is David Tredinnick, a Tory.

I joined the Green Party in 2001 because I had been weaned on science. As a child, it was terrifying to read reports of the amassing evidence of dangerous climate change, resource depletion, planetary destruction. It was an editorial in New Scientist which persuaded me to oppose nuclear power – on the grounds of cost, waste disposal, and depleting uranium reserves.

Any Ben Goldacre fan knows how little we can trust large corporations with medicine. Similarly, we can’t trust them with food. Look at farmers movements across the Global South and you find millions who stand against GM not because they see it as “frankenfood”, but because they see it as an attempt to privatise seed.

It doesn’t matter if the first stage of such crop research is public – as with medical research, privatised patents are built on the back of public data.

Famine doesn’t happen because we don’t produce enough food. It happens because of a failure to distribute food. GM makes things worse, not better. So we should fight GM crops in solidarity with the farmers movements of the global south.

But we do need to get better as a party – both at communicating what we think, and, sometimes, at distancing ourselves from our members who disagree with our policies.

In order to shake this reputation, we need more than the right policy. We need to work hard on communication. If prominent party members are going to support protests against crop trials, we need to be clear why: we stand against the corporate control of our food system. This is a part of that fight.

—-
A longer version is here.

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About the author
Adam is a regular contributor. He also writes more frequently at: Bright Green Scotland.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Environment ,Green party ,Science ,Westminster

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Reader comments


To suggest it is merely a problem with communication is under estimating it somewhat – you hint at it, but the reality is that there is a significant strain of people who are anti-science, the support that Jenny Jones got for her absurd support for the GM crop trashing protest was worrying.

What I found interesting was that the opposition within the party to her position largely came from younger members – those who came to the Green Party off the back of the scientific orthodoxy of climate change, used to dealing with anti-science rhetoric of climate change deniers – who could see the anti-science rhetoric used by those who oppose research into GM.

I think that as a party we need to communicate better within the party what the policy we have actually means, and why it says this, what the basis for this is. The real challenge is to educate members as to the reasons why good thorough science is the best way to stop corporations taking over, and sticking our collective heads in the sand over these kinds of issues, using anti-science rhetoric and spreading misinformation will only allow the corporations more leverage.

Hmmm.

1% of GDP sounds like a fine and laudable ambition. But this lumping of all business together as untrustworthy makes it seem a little impractical. To extend your problem with both medicine and food, this 1% would be invested in nothing that could ever conceivably have any commercial application at any point. Just in case this publically funded science got used by big corporations later on.

Not sure how useful that spending will then be.

3. Chaise Guevara

“Any Ben Goldacre fan knows how little we can trust large corporations with medicine. Similarly, we can’t trust them with food. ”

So why is this being used to support an attack on what was, IIRC, a government-funded study?

“”GM makes things worse, not better. So we should fight GM crops in solidarity with the farmers movements of the global south. “”

You see, you start off claiming that you’re against GM corporate control and privatisation of crops. Fair enough. And then you jump to this, suddenly making it clear that you are against ALL GM and that the anti-corporate thing is just a smokescreen.

This is why people call you anti-science. You’re letting personal prejudices (and yes, hippy values) stand in the way of evidence-based policy making.

It’s good that you’ve brought your medical policy out of the Dark Ages. But you have to *keep going* if you want to be pro-science. You can’t just fix one anti-science policy and then use than as an excuse to keep all the other ones. That’s not rationalism, it’s putting on a lab coat for the cameras.

@3

“You can’t just fix one anti-science policy and then use than as an excuse to keep all the other ones. That’s not rationalism, it’s putting on a lab coat for the cameras.”

I’m interested in which specific policies you think are anti-science? – after all, they are all published just here: http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/index.php

I don’t think that this is a policy problem, I actually think that the policy which exists in the party is sound, the real issue is more a problem of education and understanding within the party, and moving people on from irrational positions on quite a small number of things.

Broadly though, part of the issue is one of expectation, The Green Party is expected to be better at this than the other three parties, and rightly so, it sets itself out as different from the other three parties, and yet this is something which isn’t quite right, no matter how much better than the three main parties it might be.

5. Chaise Guevara

@ 4 Doug

“I’m interested in which specific policies you think are anti-science? […]

I don’t think that this is a policy problem”

Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t saying that the Greens have a raft of anti-science policies, I honestly don’t know either way. I meant, as a general principle, you can’t decide to accept science when it says things you like, ignore it when it clashes with your prejudices, and then call yourself “pro-science”, as the OP seeks to do.

So I’m responding to the content of the OP, not Green Party policy. From a glance at your link, party policy on GM seems much more rational that the OP’s.

It’s not a question of communication, it’s a question of policy. For my part I didn’t vote Green in the last election because I sat down and looked at manifesto and saw this :

“EN604 It appears unlikely that research into nuclear fusion will bear fruit in the timescales needed to address Climate Change and Peak Oil, so in the short to medium term all research funding will be redirected for more immediate benefit”

An incredibly short sighted scientific policy.

7. Chaise Guevara

@ 6 Ash

“An incredibly short sighted scientific policy.”

How so? If we’re close enough to fusion to beat peak oil then the media are being amazingly quiet about it. Or is your issue that they want to redirect *all* funding instead of keeping some of it back for more long-term development?

8. Dee Rawsthorne

A much needed explanation of the Green Party stance after Jenny Jones statements – thank you. However……

“you find millions who stand against GM not because they see it as “frankenfood”, but because they see it as an attempt to privatise seed”

– so seed is not privatised now? Farmers buy their seed from companies and pay premiums for hybrid seed and a royalty if they want to save seed. Please don’t confuse GM with how agriculture works. Its hard enough for people to understand the role of GM and many don’t realise how agriculture works, mixing the two incorrectly doesn’t help.

@7 Chaise

The latter. My issue is with the allocation of funds into purely short / medium term projects.

We need long sighted scientific investment (such as into nuclear fusion) if we are ever going to stand a chance at beating climate change / energy / sustainability / clean water etc. This investment specifically needs to come from governments as the paybacks are too far in the future for corporates to take much interest.

Chaise: you begin by saying opposition to corporate control and privatisation are fair enough, then accuse Adam of using that as a smokescreen for “hippy values”, why do you say that? What do you think his other reasons are? And why is the anti corporate reason he explictly mentions not good enough?

It might be worth reading the longer original version, which lays out that argument far better before you question his motives. You don’t have to agree with him of course but his reasons to be anti-gm have nothing to do with science and everything to do with capitalism.

11. Chaise Guevara

@ 9 Ashrolls

“The latter. My issue is with the allocation of funds into purely short / medium term projects.”

In that case, agreed. Long-term research is exactly the sort of thing that governments push back to “next year” for all eternity.

12. Chaise Guevara

@ 10 alisdair

“Chaise: you begin by saying opposition to corporate control and privatisation are fair enough, then accuse Adam of using that as a smokescreen for “hippy values”, why do you say that? What do you think his other reasons are? And why is the anti corporate reason he explictly mentions not good enough? ”

Because, as I already said, a) he uses this logic to justify opposition to what I’m pretty sure was a government study, and b) definitely goes on to condemn ALL GM. Not corporate GM, all of it. I quoted some of the relevant text in my first comment.

An anti-corporate reason is not good enough for opposing non-corporate operations.

As for his real reasons, I can’t know. All I know is that he’s using the stated reasons as a smokescreen – either that or has expressed himself badly.

“It might be worth reading the longer original version, which lays out that argument far better before you question his motives. You don’t have to agree with him of course but his reasons to be anti-gm have nothing to do with science and everything to do with capitalism.”

But I’m not arguing with the anti-corporate stuff. Does it lay out his reasons for being opposed even to non-corporate GM? Because if not it’ll get us nowhere.

13. Clyde Davies

“Any Ben Goldacre fan knows how little we can trust large corporations with medicine. Similarly, we can’t trust them with food. Look at farmers movements across the Global South and you find millions who stand against GM not because they see it as “frankenfood”, but because they see it as an attempt to privatise seed. ”

There are rather more nuanced options available to exercise, apart from chucking the baby of biotech out with the bathwater of over-commercialised farming. You don’t like the idea of ‘multinationals’ gaining a stranglehold on our food supply through GM? Then reclaim GM for the masses. Support publically funded research like that going on at Rothamsted. Support the idea of an ‘open-source’ movement, rather like we get in software, which ensures that any science underlying a GM crop is publically available for anyone to license for free. You don’t like the idea that GM foodstuffs could make their way into our food supply unnoticed? Support a proper regulatory framework which allows people to make informed decisions about what they eat in the full knowledge of what goes into their food.
It’s not difficult, you know, but it does require flexible thought and imagination. How much *easier* just to *trash* the fundamental science, eh?

It might help if the author understood that hybrid seed either tends to be sterile or tends not to produce second generation seed which has the same (fertility, resistance, etc.) characteristics as the first.

That is the reason farmers are “forced” to buy replacement seed each year.
Not some Monsanto plot.

@chaise:

you are right that the above is a bit disjointed – it is significantly edited from a longer piece, linked to at the bottom, so the argument misses a couple of stages.

The point I’m making is that you often can’t disentangle public and corporate research: in order to get funding these days, almost all research has to be commericalisable. In the case of GM, that means the patent resulting from this research will almost certainly be handed to one of the big agri-chemical corporations. It really doesn’t matter who’s doing it, it’s part of the same process.

In this context, it is reasonable, I think, to say that you can be sure this research will contribute significantly to this process, and this process is a bad thing, and so you are against the specific research – it’s not like this was some lab test into the behaviour of genes…

the analogy I used in the original piece was arms research – it’s not anti-science to be against research into bigger bombs. If you believe GM is a tool to further monolpolise food systems, then you can reasonably believe that more lives are at steak here than they would be with a new bomb.

Here’s my point though – I really don’t feel stroingly about GM. Corporate control of food is really about global corporate power, not a particular technology used by that power. However, the idea that Greens are anti-science despite supporting massive increases in funding for science as a basic social good whilst all other significant parties attack the very idea of research as a social good is laughable. GM is a sideshow. Science is under attack. And unless those who wish to defend science look at who is attacking, and who is on their side, they will find themselves in serous trouble very fast.

oh, and cjcj,

I didn’t even mention termanator seeds, and do you really think that companies don’t want to expand their markets? Coz that’s just laughable.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 15 Adam Ramsey

That’s a lot more reasonable. Still, if you want to shake the anti-science label (as opposed to reality) it might be better to focus on campaigning for changes to patent law around GM. I don’t know what the law is now, but it seems to me that it ought to be similar to pharma.

As for science being under attack… is that an emerging trend? I’m not sure that “under attack” is the phrase I’d use. There’s just a lot of people who don’t get science, and a lot of people who are happy to exploit that to avoid admitting that they’re wrong. See holistic practitioners, creationists, politicians in general. It has ever been thus, and it’s improving in the long term (as we know more science than ever before, and are less likely to be satisfied with god-of-the-gaps reasoning and mysterious answers).

18. Clyde Davies

This is what Adam says:
“The point I’m making is that you often can’t disentangle public and corporate research: in order to get funding these days, almost all research has to be commericalisable. In the case of GM, that means the patent resulting from this research will almost certainly be handed to one of the big agri-chemical corporations. It really doesn’t matter who’s doing it, it’s part of the same process.”

And this is what Rothamsted says about it;

“Our work is publically funded, we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be owned by any private company – if our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to farmers around the world at minimum cost.”

So, yes, you can disentangle public and corporate research very effectively. That is, if you can be bothered to acquaint yourself with the facts of the case in the first place. Mind you… facts and Greens don’t often go very well together.

19. Clyde Davies

Oh, and to sum up, I think the Greens have communicated their support for science very well indeed. They’ve given the impression that they’re only prepared to support it if it chimes in with their prejudices, which is pretty much the actual state of affairs.

@chaise (and others):

I don’t understand how you could have missed the paragraph in between the two you first quoted:

“It doesn’t matter if the first stage of such crop research is public – as with medical research, privatised patents are built on the back of public data.”

Did you just miss this bit at first and second and third reading? This is why the author moves from beng unhappy about corporate GM to govt funded GM.

The argument is that there are plenty of ‘big corp’s whose long term aims are ‘To create bigger and better GM crops and then marketing them for profit down the line?’. And that this is a reason to oppose the development of this industry.

21. Clyde Davies

@David:
You have just uttered what I consider to be possibly one of the most naive and simplistic statements I have ever read on this subject, even to the point of it being risibile:
“The argument is that there are plenty of ‘big corp’s whose long term aims are ‘To create bigger and better GM crops and then marketing them for profit down the line?’. And that this is a reason to oppose the development of this industry.”

So, *any* public research that *might* possibly for a basis for a future private patent should be banned according to this logic. Tell me: would we have effective medicines were it not for the profit motive, given how expensive they are to develop? Or PCs? Or smartphones? Why bother taking the risk if the rewards are going to be meagre?

Like it or not, profit makes the modern world go around. And there is nothing *wrong* with making a profit per se: it’s only when the profit motive eclipses and moves against all other concerns, such as access to healthcare (as it does in the US). If, through making a profit, a lot fewer people go hungry in the world then I am personally all for it.

And the Greens wonder why people treat them as a joke: it’s because many of them couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag.

@clyde:

Not sure why you’re attacking me. I thought I was just pointing out what the very loose gist of that part of the article was, which commenters like you seemed to not address.

Feel free to argue against the author on these points though you’re better off responding to his arguments than to my sentence in my comment trying to explain quickly what all the previous comments seemed not to address.

23. Clyde Davies

@David,
Apologies: yes you were only echoing the argument of the article, and I misread your comment. However I think my comment still stands. People who indiscriminately destroy crop trials are sometimes really taking up arms against the Enlightenment ethic. There are principles at stake here other than slaking one’s anti-captialistic bloodlust.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 20 David

“The argument is that there are plenty of ‘big corp’s whose long term aims are ‘To create bigger and better GM crops and then marketing them for profit down the line?’. And that this is a reason to oppose the development of this industry.”

Fair enough, but it’s a bad argument. It’s a fully general counterargument that you can use against any progress you want by claiming it might, at some point, be used by someone you don’t like.

If this programme leads to patents that are then copylefted or whatever, that will *prevent* GM corporations from owning, hogging or abusing said patent. It narrows the field.

I heard of a guy who got a patent on an HIV drug and then basically donated it to India. Should he have buried the study for fear that his patent would then be used for another treatment that would price-out the third world?

25. douglas clark

There is an ultimate stupidity in not funding fundamental research. Lasers were invented as a demonstrable, working technology in 1954. They are now ubiquitous. One of the things some scientists are trying to do now is compress pellets of matter in order to create sustainable fusion using lasers as the means of compression. This may, or may not, lead to a sustainable fusion power source – one where the energy in is less than the energy out.

In a sensible society we would be spending far more than 1% of GDP on fundamental research alone.

The short sighted nature of politicians in particular and the financial industry as well is a complete utter disaster for you and me. Though they are not alone in that.

On the word Maser, it is an acronym for Microwave Amplification by the Stimulated Emmission of Radiation, the precursor to the Laser. Back in 1954 some jealous scientists claimed Maser stood for “Means of Acquiring Support for Expensive Research”.

Ths sum in question?

$30,000.

26. Clyde Davies

@Chaise
I heard this argument in a TV drama the other night: should we blame the Wright Brothers for the firebombing of Dresden?
This is why I think the only way forward is to evaluate each case on its own merits. And to put in place a regulatory framework that allows research to occur at a reasonable case without taking undue risks.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 26 Clyde

“I heard this argument in a TV drama the other night: should we blame the Wright Brothers for the firebombing of Dresden?”

I like that and will be stealing it.

“This is why I think the only way forward is to evaluate each case on its own merits. And to put in place a regulatory framework that allows research to occur at a reasonable case without taking undue risks.”

Absolutely, agreed.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science http://t.co/R6onihq0

  2. Jason Brickley

    The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science http://t.co/wYG6CtQ5

  3. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science http://t.co/4JIfdkz3

  4. sunny hundal

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  5. Martin Robbins

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  6. Ed Simpson

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  7. Xanno M

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  8. Anders Örbom

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  9. Cory Hazlehurst

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  10. Camden FoE

    RT @sunny_hundal Greens must get better at communicating our support for science http://t.co/3yjeGWAZ

  11. Bishop Hill

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  12. Julia Thorne

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  13. Martin Grouch

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  14. The Gimpy Blog

    I don't want to give up on the greens, but their opposition to GM is relentlessly ideological, so what can you do? http://t.co/3X8IsEk6

  15. Carl Baker

    I don't want to give up on the greens, but their opposition to GM is relentlessly ideological, so what can you do? http://t.co/3X8IsEk6

  16. Stephen Mullen

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  17. Nic Prigg

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  18. Sarah Brown

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  19. Dan Waterfield

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  20. Tim Oliver

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  21. Damn Red Dragon

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  22. Robert Wilson

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  23. Paul Trembath

    I don't want to give up on the greens, but their opposition to GM is relentlessly ideological, so what can you do? http://t.co/3X8IsEk6

  24. Callisto/Matt

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  25. Simon

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  26. Laura Wheeler

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  27. Christine Ottery

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  28. Matt Crocker

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  29. Nat

    I don't want to give up on the greens, but their opposition to GM is relentlessly ideological, so what can you do? http://t.co/3X8IsEk6

  30. Paul Askew

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  31. Tom Wells

    Interesting read RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/unC08EiS

  32. Neasan ONeill

    @tom_wells101 @sunny_hundal I would love if it was true but @GreenJennyJones was at Rothamsted on the other side! http://t.co/28NaZvuD

  33. Will King

    "The Green Party is more pro-science than any other party" *falls off chair laughing* http://t.co/qF7eZXEE

  34. Warren Niblock

    'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/Jz1CaS9U (cc @laurawheelers @mjrobbins @alicebell)

  35. Spirit Splice

    Start by not trashing it? RT @sunny_hundal: 'The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science' http://t.co/PF2pBid3

  36. sunny hundal

    @DavidACGregory I hope you'll have someone like @AdamRamsay representing sensible Green policy on this http://t.co/CGPDz69E

  37. Kathryn

    The Greens must get better at communicating our support for science | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/SoKemuDt via @libcon

  38. Daniel Juett

    @marksiddens though there are areas I'm uncomfortable with, partic. the E&W Greens! Though others disagree 😉 http://t.co/rZM8FdeQ





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