Because Science Matters

Dr Michael Brooks, a bestselling author and consultant for New Scientist magazine, is standing for the Science Party in the Bosworth constituency

I did a little pounding of the streets of Hinckley this week, asking questions about the relevance of science in the election. Hinckley is the largest town in the Bosworth constituency in which I am standing as the sole candidate for the Science Party (slogan: Because Science Matters). There’s no particular reason for its population to be science-friendly, but I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction I received. People genuinely and enthusiastically engaged with the issues I raised.

I managed just 25 surveys, but here’s a little data. One of the questions I asked was whether science funding should be protected, given that science is ultimately a bigger contributor to the economy than the banking, insurance and finance sectors combined. The response? Only four people felt science funding should not receive special protection.

None of the people I talked to would identify themselves as particularly pro-science, but they knew its value. Many of them waxed lyrical over the benefits it had brought, talked animatedly about the problem of climate change and voiced support for more funding into cancer research. The question that bothers me is whether their representative in Parliament – and indeed many people’s representatives – share these values.

I’m standing for election in Bosworth to highlight this issue. Bosworth’s MP, the Conservative David Tredinnick, is definitely not pro-science. He has suggested in Parliament that the NHS might benefit from the input of astrologers. Parliamentary records show he has also suggested the NHS should “think outside of the box” and consider the benefits to be derived from radionics, a form of remote psychic healing. Practitioners of radionics focus their minds on items such as the blood, hair or signature of a patient in order to send “healing energies” to them.

Some might argue that holding such views does no harm, but that is not true. Tredinnick is in a position to influence how the NHS should distribute its scant resources. He has tabled an Early Day Motion to keep NHS funding for homeopathy, despite the evidence, collected by the Science and Technology Select Committee, that it does not represent good value for money.

In this week’s Times Higher, Tredinnick accuses me of representing “the worst kind of rigid-thinking scientist” for raising these issues. I have to say, I’d rather think rigidly than sloppily, because there’s too much at stake.

If Tredinnick, and the 70 other MPs who have signed his EDM, are willing to dismiss scientific findings in regard to NHS spending, where does that stop? At drugs policy? At funding for particle accelerators? At questioning the value of embryonic stem cell research?

Too many issues in the modern world involve science for us to have political representatives who ignore and undermine it. In the last parliament, 584 MPs declared they had no political interest in science and technology issues. That we have allowed this situation to arise is unconscionable. Changing it will take time and a lot of time and effort, but if we want the next generation of Britons to enjoy a stable economy, a stable climate and stable jobs in science, it will be time and effort well spent.

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  1. Edward Neale
    Posted 26/04/2010 at 11:56 | Permalink

    ‘In the last parliament, 584 MPs declared they had no political interest in science and technology issues.’

    That’s scary, particularly given the challenges we’re now facing on issues such as the environment, energy optimisation and potential water scarcity.

    The question is how best to tackle it and make them interested.

    Is it time to maybe create a Government-level, politically neutral, body responsible for actually deciding long-term science, technology and engineering policy in the UK? This body would be comprised of a token number of politicians, but would mainly be made up of specialists and those with actual experience in the development and execution of scientific and technological ideas/products.

    Or maybe even a science and technology Parliament with independent executive powers?

  2. Posted 26/04/2010 at 12:42 | Permalink

    Excellent piece, very interesting and with some truly worrying insights into the workings of parliament.

    Is there any way to get this republished somewhere that it will get a wider reading though – seems that its pretty much preaching to the choir here?

    Hope this gets read by many MPs

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