For scientists in a democracy, to dissent is to be reasonable

George Monbiot writes: It’s as clear and chilling a statement of intent as you’re likely to read. Scientists should be “the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”. Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong-un? No, Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the UK’s Department for Environment.

Boyd’s doctrine is a neat distillation of government policy in Britain, Canada and Australia. These governments have suppressed or misrepresented inconvenient findings on climate change, pollution, pesticides, fisheries and wildlife. They have shut down programmes that produce unwelcome findings and sought to muzzle scientists. This is a modern version of Soviet Lysenkoism: crushing academic dissent on behalf of bad science and corporate power.

Writing in an online journal, Boyd argued that if scientists speak freely, they create conflict between themselves and policymakers, leading to a “chronically deep-seated mistrust of scientists that can undermine the delicate foundation upon which science builds relevance”. This, in turn, “could set back the cause of science in government”. So they should avoid “suggesting that policies are either right or wrong”. If they must speak out, they should do so through “embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

Shut up, speak through me, don’t dissent – or your behaviour will ensure that science becomes irrelevant. Note that the conflicts between science and policy are caused by scientists, rather than by politicians ignoring or abusing the evidence. Or by chief scientific advisers. [Continue reading…]

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