What Joanna Lumley Should Know about These So-Called Science Experts; (1)This Week, a Group Called Sense about Science Launched a Campaign against Celebrities Who, They Say, Pronounce on Scientific Issues without Specialist Knowledge. but Are SAS All They Seem? Here Zac Goldsmith, Editor of the Ecologist, Reveals That They, Too, Have an Agenda ...(2)REVIEW
Byline: ZAC GOLDSMITH
When a group calling itself Sense About Science launched its 'science for celebrities' pamphlet in the national media this week, it was supposed to look like the long overdue backlash of a normally passive science community following years of misinformation from ill-informed stars.
The pamphlet is full of what it regards to be false, but nevertheless anodyne, assertions by celebrities about the benefits of homoeopathy and so on, and ends with an offer by the organisation to act as a fact-checking service.
But it is the pamphlet's repeated objection to any hint that chemicals might not be good for our health that suggests an altogether less helpful agenda.
One of its experts writes: 'A whole host of unwanted chemicals find their way into our bodies all the time . . . Do they matter? No!' Another adds: 'There is no evidence that controlled food additives cause cancer.' And if cancer is increasing, he says in response to a comment by Joanna Lumley, 'it's because people are living longer'.
This is hard to substantiate for a number of reasons, not least because the American National Cancer Institute says childhood cancers have been increasing by one per cent every year since the Fifties.
At the very least you'd expect a bit more caution from a group dedicated to investigating the ' consequences of unfounded research claims'. But on closer inspection, it's hard to reconcile SAS's goals with the politics and interest of some of its members and backers.
The organisation is often described as an aggressively pro-GM lobby group.
But it's much more than that. It is dominated by a bizarre political network that began life as the ultra-Left Revolutionary Communist Party and switched over to extreme corporate libertarianism when it launched Living Marxism magazine in the late Eighties.
Living Marxism advocated lifting restrictions on child pornography; it opposed banning tobacco advertising and supported human cloning, among other issues.
Inasmuch as it has a central philosophy, it is a fierce opposition to the State attempting to protect citizens from the excesses of big business.
But its real goal, and the reason for its political zigzagging, may stem from a long-held hatred of any reform that might prolong the system its members despise. They call it 'revolutionary defeatism'. By giving capitalism enough rope, they hope it will hang itself. In other words, by helping to accelerate the internal contradictions of capitalism, SAS believes it is hastening its collapse and the move to the 'next stage' of human development.
During the Nineties, Living Marxism successfully influenced media coverage of science and environment issues, particularly GM food. But in 2000, it was sued for claiming that ITN had falsified evidence of Serb atrocities against Bosnian Muslims, and was forced to close. It reinvented itself as the Institute of Ideas, and the online magazine Spiked. At each step in its evolution, it has been largely the same people who have given life to this strange movement.
Research by Jonathan Matthews of www.gmwatch.org shows it is many of the same people who now put themselves forward as the faces of respectable science.
It's a dizzying network. For instance, the director of SAS, Tracey Brown, has written for Living Marxism and Spiked and has published a book with the Institute of Ideas. Both she, and her programme director, Ellen Raphael, studied under Frank Furedi at the University of Kent before working for a PR firm that defends companies against consumer and environmental campaigners.
Raphael, meanwhile, was the 'contact person' for Global Futures, a publishing house that until recently shared a phone number with SAS. …