A rather odd thing for Vince Cable to say – gimpyblog’s posterous
Another nice follow-up to the post below from Chris Dillow on the forthcoming cuts to the UK science budget.
[blogpost reproduced in full]
Forget for one moment the fall out of Vince Cable’s speech on science funding.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/08/vincent-cable-science-budget-cutsForget the fact the government has ignored the recommendations of last parliaments Science & Technology committee.
Forget the fact that a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State with a remit for science has utterly reneged on Liberal Democrat commitments to science that were made to the electorate.
Forget even the fact that the Secretary of State does not appear to understand the criteria used for assessing the research that his department is responsible for.
Forget all this. For it is not the most weird thing about the speech.
Superstition and irrational prejudice about the natural world are rarely far from the surface and scientists help inoculate society against them – a far from risk-free task as Simon Singh and others have discovered.
Is Cable saying scientists are inherently more rational and less prejudiced than other members of society? This would be contentious. Or does he mean that science can provide rational reasons for events and occurrences once attributed to supernatural forces and that evidence undermines prejudice. This would be true, but you only have too look at the public’s understanding of genetic modification, climate change or immigration to see that in practice throwing facts in somebody’s face is not always the most efficacious way of changing their mind.
And what has Simon Singh got to do with anything? He was sued by a bunch of quacks whose reputation now lies in tatters. This was a terrible abuse of libel law and it needs to be reformed, but this is not the remit of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills. Perhaps Cable was worried that libel law can stifle science based criticisms? It can, but I suspect that focussing science on fields that generate short term profit against all the evidence may in fact represent a far greater threat.
Did Cable really think that a poorly conceived nod to skeptical activism and libel reform would sweeten the bitter taste this renunciation of his party’s purported principles has left in the mouths of most scientists?