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UK Government Forbids Publicly-Funded Scientists And Academics From Giving Advice It Disagrees With

from the la-la-la-la-la-not-listening dept

Three years ago, Techdirt wrote about the Canadian government muzzling scientists and librarians, in a clear effort to prevent them from pointing out that some of Canada’s policies were scientifically stupid. That was a blatant attempt to censor those who had not just inconvenient opinions but also awkward facts that would have made life difficult for the Canadian government. The UK wants to do something similar, by forbidding scientists and academics from using their expertise to push for changes in policy — even in private. As The Guardian reported:

The proposal — announced by the Cabinet Office earlier this month — would block researchers who receive government grants from using their results to lobby for changes to laws or regulations.

For example, an academic whose government-funded research showed that new regulations were proving particularly harmful to the homeless would not be able to call for policy change.

Similarly, ecologists who found out that new planning laws were harming wildlife would not be able to raise the issue in public, while climate scientists whose findings undermined government energy policy could have work suppressed.

The new policy is contained in an amendment to the agreement that all those receiving grants from the UK government must sign. As the press release announcing the move explained:

A new clause to be inserted into all new and renewed grant agreements will make sure that taxpayer funds are spent on improving people?s lives and good causes, rather than lobbying for new regulation or using taxpayers? money to lobby for more government funding.

That might sound reasonable, especially the last part about not being able to lobby for more funding. It is aimed mainly at organizations that receive government grants, but many academics believe that it is so loosely worded that it will also apply to them, and will prevent them from pushing for new regulations in any circumstances. Even if that is not the UK government’s intention, the mere existence of the policy is bound to have a chilling effect on the academics, since few will want to run the risk of having their grants taken away by inadvertently breaking the new rules.

Academics aren’t the only ones who are worried. Recently, a group of MPs who sit on the important House of Commons Science and Technology Committee wrote a letter to the UK government expressing their concern that:

The “anti-lobbying” clause to be inserted into new grant agreements will create a barrier to evidence-based policymaking and will have unintended effects on the work of [Parliament’s advisory] select committees.

Specifically, the politicians on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee wrote:

We are concerned that the Cabinet Office’s announcement has created ambiguity, and that researchers will become reluctant to present to us the policy recommendations that arise from their work. Academics may also become unwilling to take on advisory positions in Government or Parliament, and may even feel uncomfortable speaking at conferences where policymakers are present, for fear of falling foul of this clause.

The well-known UK academic and medical campaigner Ben Goldacre has written a powerful and informative piece explaining why he believes his “lobbying” of politicians serves an important function. He says:

I don’t just want this ban overturned: I want to see more academics talking to policymakers, and I want the public to know what we do, so that they can decide if it’s good or bad.

Indeed, he suggests that rather than forbidding academics from lobbying for new regulations, they should be encouraged and even trained to do so:

If you’re an academic who lobbies, then don’t be shy, and don’t be scared: you should share your experiences, and your techniques. If you want to waste even more time on activities with no credit and no hope of funding, then perhaps we could set up a course, or a forum, to pool knowledge on better ways to interact with [the UK government]. And lastly, if you?re a politician, and you really want to ban this activity, then shame on you. You’re a failure, an obstacle to good progress, and an outlier. But there’s one final piece of happier news. You won’t last long.

Let’s hope he’s right.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “UK Government Forbids Publicly-Funded Scientists And Academics From Giving Advice It Disagrees With”

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33 Comments
Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: "conservatives are in favour of science"

As a tree-hugging, tofu-eating bleeding-heart liberal who supports big science, I personally don’t understand why my alleged brethren in office are not so into science.

I mean c’mon people, the moonshots returned $14 on the dollar. I’m not a money person but that seems like a sound investment.

Groaker (profile) says:

GB is in a race with Italy to destroy truth and science. While Italy did recently imprison geologists for failing to predict an earthquake, they were eventually released. GB has yet to actually carry out their threats.

It is currently a tossup to see which nation will commit the most self-harm — either directly or through suppression of thought. Brain drain strikes again.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Of course

The “anti-lobbying” clause to be inserted into new grant agreements will create a barrier to evidence-based policymaking and will have unintended effects on the work of [Parliament’s advisory] select committees.

“Because, damnit, how is a good politician supposed to pass laws based on blind faith if you keep coming at me with all these facts!?”

– Every politician ever

Socrates says:

Re: Changing history and facts

John Maynard Keynes have been misquoted extensively lately, just as the reasons for the recession has been misstated.

As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”

Actively managing the economy means taking money from powerful people when the bubble inflates, and that both means preventing rapid valuation increases of stocks and permanently taking sufficient money from the traders to make this happen!

It also means bullishly building infrastructure and providing a safety net for citizens to prevent recessions when necessary.

For each wave this means a substantial portion of wealth and power is transferred from 1%’ers.

Even though everyone benefits in the long run, and bursting bubbles is devastating, it is quite naturally unpopular by those who see short time profit dwindle. Present day politicians heroizes raiders like Carl Icahn that drove Howard Hughes airline (Trans World Airlines) into the ground. These politicians also tend to be in the scums debt because the politicians depend on campaign contributions.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Makes perfect sense

Career lobbyists, which tend to have only what information best serves the companies they are representing can lobby or call for regulations or changes all they want.

Researchers on the other hand, which have actual data and ideally without bias one way or another are not allowed to call for changes or regulations.

The more you know, the less you’re allowed to speak, can’t get more logical than that.

Anon says:

Notice that...

Notice that the insecure and arrogant fundamentalist idiot who came up with that policy in Canada, despite importing negative election attack ads into Canada, managed to lose big time to a fellow with zero government experience whose only claim to fame is “son of a previous prime minister” and better ‘good hair”. Justin Trudeau (son of Pierre Trudeau) won a majority against all odds, against all the polls, because the overwhelming public sentiment was “get rid of P.M. Stephen Harper”.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Good Facts vs. Real Facts

Perhaps the U.K. minister is a fan of Babylon 5 (or Orwell). J. Michael Straczynski wrote in season 4 “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” about a government trying to re-write history. This sounds like another variation on the same melody.

Scientists deal in real facts.
Governments (and corporations) deal in good facts

What’s the difference you ask?

real facts represent reality. Unfiltered by any ideal or agenda.

good facts represent facts that support the current ideology or agenda of the ruling party [or company] that espouses them.

Good facts are fluid and infinitely malleable. Real facts are rigid, and only suitable for burying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good Facts vs. Real Facts

Scientists deal in real facts.
Governments (and corporations) deal in good facts

Not even remotely true. Scientists are no more saintly than any other party. Do you really believe they don’t do things for funding? What about all the scientific, peer reviewed journals that don’t actually do the peer review? What about all the faked studies that aren’t discovered for years?

Socrates says:

Re: Re: Good Facts vs. Real Facts

There is ample supply of fake scientists, funded “studies”, funded “reviews”, parasitic journals, revolving door legislators, and so on.

It derails the worlds knowledge, harm people, and cause suffering. Studies that “prove” smoking is good for you, or that trans fats is nice, or that sugar is a necessary part of our diet, have been common. FDA also allows lies on labels, such as labeling products with trans fats as having none!

Scientists still are more saintly than other parties because who they tend to be, and because peer reviews work.

Faking factual data, faking methodology, and faking logic, tend to be discovered. And so more people know that for instance smoking is not a healthy endeavor, because of the scientists!

ECA (profile) says:

Interesting topic

But WHO do they listen to..
CORPS love to prove themselves right, Ask the drug companies how they do it..
200 experiments, 10 show it MIGHT do something, 190 Fail..
The drug corp only shows the ones that worked..

MOST people elected to office, ARNT super smart people. They have enough problems understanding economics, forget about HOW studies/experiments and Logic work..

Anonymous Coward says:

Climate change anyone?

while climate scientists whose findings undermined government energy policy could have work suppressed.

This has been going on for a long time. Not just governments pulling funding, but media and doubters shouting down the skeptics. Science should be about discovering what is, not what you want it to be. Too much of climatology is about what people want to find while ignoring the failures of the models and the actual data.

Socrates says:

Re: Climate change anyone?

Not at all!

The facts are overwhelming!

The facts just “harm” profit, massively (for select industries). There is a relentless powerful push in social media, paid media/mass media and sponsored “research”, to seed doubt about the research. To allow people to discover that the scientists are “wrong”.

Add to this that citizens all over the world should reduce consumption. Citizens that at the same time is force fed advertising, politicians that claim that we must consume to save the economy, and banks that extract profit by selling debt! It isn’t a surprise we harm the planet.

If citizens used as much time learning science as they do now looking at mass media “content”, the world would be better off!

Sammy Stenson says:

It's becoming a trend......

from the la-la-la-la-la-not-listening dept
-love it.

How have Canada and UK fared under that plan? Guess it looked good enough to the present US govt that they decided to try it.

Ideological vetting of information is making its way to the US.

In January in the US–,
2017-0125 Trump puts a gag order on EPA, requiring that all science be subjected to ideological review
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/25/donald-trump-epa-gag-order-political-review

Pence was already going down that road over a year ago:
A state-run news agency for ‘small government’ Indiana: Huh?

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/Politics-Voices/2015/0128/A-state-run-news-agency-for-small-government-Indiana-Huh

Seriously, between your article and these two articles, it appears that govts are finally deciding to shed the pretense of fair intellectual exchange, and to just get on with making up shit and ruling by fiat.

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