On the Green Party and the scientists: An answer to Sunny Hundal.

This letter on the Guardian raises some points, notably the one that says that scientists shouldn’t expect that politicians will follow every advice they give. This is clear, while scientists might provide advices, it’s up to the society to follow it, or not. I think so, and I’m pretty sure other scientists do as well. Sadly, this is the only good point made by this text. The rest sounds like it has been written by someone whose judgement has been clouded by anger. To support his case, Sunny Hundal (his blog is here), writes that UKIP and conservatives are probably more illiterate about science than the Greens because of their denial of global warming. The Green Party supports the scientists on this issue. Later in the text, the author claims that the backing –or lack thereof– of some technologies by the conservatives and the UKIP on the one hand and the Greens on the other is ideological. That’s exactly that! And therefore, while the conservatives behave as ignorant witch-hunters when it comes to climate science, the Greens are no better when it comes to experiments on animals or GM food. Anti-GM activism is a lot more active in France than it is here. There, I heard countless arguments that were tantamount to fearmongering. A practise that I personally find despicable. And while I might be slightly more sympathetic to the Greens’ or environmentalists’ view of the world, their behaviour regarding GM is that of Luddites. In my opinion, it makes no sense to go after some experiments that are here to produce knowledge, like the one hosted at Rothamstead Research. I’d have somewhat less of a problem if the attack would have been directed against a corporation such as Monsanto. In fact, environmentalists have a lot of interesting things to say about patenting of technology or genes. Sadly, it seems that building a coherent position around these issues involves a lot more work –understanding the scientific and legal bases of the problem, mainly– that calling on people to go about destroying experiments. The other point raised by Sunny Hundal is that scientists are bad at communication. It is in general true that scientists are not very good at PR. Then again, this isn’t their job. Maybe it should, maybe not; in any event, as for global warming, the debate about GM crops is loaded with ideology –as Sunny Hundal himself pointed out. It is then somewhat unfair to blame the lack of success of their attempt at communicating solely on the scientists. For a dialog to occur, both parties must be ready to listen. And in both cases, global warming and GM crops, their “opponents” simply don’t want to listen. “Take the flour back” made it clear refusing to debate with the researchers from Rothamstead Research.

Eventually, there seems to be some confusion in the mind of this author, as is illustrated by the following:

Given that scientists are utterly failing to engage or lead the debate on climate change – why not spend more time dealing with that bigger problem than attacking Greens over small things? Our planet is dying thanks to global warming and some scientists think this GM outrage should be a top priority? Really?

Do I really need to remind him that climate scientists and plant biologists are not exactly the same people? While some climate scientist –despite what Sunny Hundal seems to infer– do engage the public on climate science, they do not have the knowledge to do so when it comes to GM technology. And, conversely, molecular biologists are not exactly experts in climate science. Therefore, they’d rather engage in debates about the technology they master. This is called intellectual honesty. As for the occasional climate scientist that might voice his support to the researchers at Rothamstead, why shouldn’t he? The problems that both type of scientists face stem from the very same science illiteracy that, sadly, seems widespread in society. Who, besides a scientist, can explain the scientific method? And yet, this isn’t something very hard to understand…

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About ravingscientist01

Trained as a molecular geneticist, I did a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology. I am interested in science, its communication, the impact it can have on policies as well as the impact of various policies related to science may have on the latter.
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