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.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 8:55am

    A: If you do that you are going to die.
    B: I pay you to research on safety issues, not to tell me what to do based on facts!
    A: ...
    *B unfortunately dies*


    Sadly the Government will be the least affected by its own dumbness.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Graham J (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:06am

    Canada

    I just thought I'd point out that one of the first things Canada's latest Prime Minister did was un-muzzle our scientists. It's sad to see the UK not learning from our past mistakes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:07am

    Conservatives strike again. This happened under Harper in Canada, too, which I think got changed back thanks to Trudeau's government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 30 Mar 2016 @ 5:53am

      Re:

      They're not conservatives, they're reactionary right-wing radicals.

      Actual conservatives are in favour of science and learning in general.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Mar 2016 @ 11:54am

        "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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:17am

    We aren't truly living in the age of enlightenment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:22am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:23am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:36am

      Re: Of course

      When did blind faith become code for cold hard cash?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Socrates, 22 Mar 2016 @ 1:23pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:23am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:34am

    Was Henry VIII elected Prime Minister without me knowing it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 22 Mar 2016 @ 9:43am

    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".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:15am

      Re: Notice that...

      Better we change PM's every few years in the worst case they are all corrupt self serving criminals. Opposed to voting for the same one year after year.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 10:13am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 12:45pm

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Socrates, 22 Mar 2016 @ 1:46pm

        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!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 22 Mar 2016 @ 11:17pm

        Re: Scientists are no more saintly than any other party.

        Science is self-correcting, ideology is self-perpetuating.

        End of story.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 10:20am

    Resistance is NOT Futile, It's Inevitable

    If they are so afraid of a little resistance, what are they going to do when there is a lot of resistance? Conniption fit overload?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 10:47am

    It looks like so many politicians have sold their opinions to their paymasters, and now see no problem with buying the opinion of others.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 12:02pm

    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..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 12:36pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Socrates, 22 Mar 2016 @ 2:16pm

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 1:51pm

    This is legislating confirmation bias.

    They're taking the asshole human trait and turning into policy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 22 Mar 2016 @ 1:58pm

    Coming to a Committee Meeting Near You

    "Sir, I cannot comment on that question, for fear of violating the agreement under which I receive public funds for my research."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jigsy, 22 Mar 2016 @ 2:37pm

    Doubleplusungood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 22 Mar 2016 @ 3:19pm

    If it interferes with the wishes of their corporate masters then...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 7:08pm

    Is it just me, or is the UK becoming like the caricature governments it's usually represented as in misc novels and movies¿
    Or is it just Corporate Capitalism¿

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 7:58am

    "You will say what we tell you to say or else."

    Nothing like a government that is for the people right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sammy Stenson, 25 Feb 2017 @ 11:45pm

    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-smal l-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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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