Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Science and Politics

So: the Home Secretary dismissed a scientific advisor for being a scientist and complaining that the Government deliberately ignored the advice of his panel. There's been a huge amount of rather interesting commentary about the link between science and government during the fall-out of the sacking of Prof David Nutt (which has the glorious Twitter hashtag of #NuttSack). It sort of surprises me and sort of doesn't that one arm of the people who run the country (the government) think that basing decisions on scientific evidence is a bad thing to do, and that another (the Daily Mail and its constituency) rants that it would be hell on earth to be governed by those that weigh up the balance of evidence and come to conclusions based on that evidence.

It's a real shame - and part and parcel of the two cultures that are as alive today as they were 50 years ago. It's a bit tiresome when the presenters of the Today program fail to challenge scientists like they do politicians because they don't have the ability or confidence to do so. It's a little annoying when Jeremy Paxman is impressed and surprised when contestants in University Challenge answer a basic science question but is scathing when a poor guess is made to a question in the arts. It's really annoying, though, when things that really matter - things like government policy - deliberately ignore the evidence.

Still, in other news, universities aren't going to be "ivory towers" anymore, with the intellectual and research freedom that goes with it. Instead they must concentrate on being drivers of the economy and respond to social need (which they already do alongside the "ivory tower" aspect). Research grants will be rated according to their financial payoff (as if it could be measured), not the science. Soon Universities can be a fully paid-up part of the service economy too, and we will no longer have to worry about troublesome disinterested scientists and their crazy evidence-based reasoning.