Wednesday, November 08, 2006

You don't say


Yes, I'm afraid it's true

Yesterday we blogged the government's highly selective use of the precautionary principle to justify policy. And blow me, the Commons Science and Technology Committee have been blogging exactly the same thing. Committee member Dr Evan Harris says "The precautionary principle is a term so vague, abused and misconstrued that it should be abandoned."

But - and this will be a Big Shock to everyone - the Committee reckons abuse of the precautionary principle is only one of the government's many egregious sins in the field of "scientific evidence":

"Scientific evidence is often misused or distorted to justify policy decisions which are really based on ideological or social grounds."

And their report quotes the following examples of the misuse of science by government departments:
  • Government claims that the ABC drug classification system reduces crime
  • Magic mushrooms placed in the most dangerous class A category
  • Over-zealous regulations proposed for medical technicians using MRI scanners with no evidence base
  • Homeopathic remedies allowed to be licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency despite not meeting the same standards of proof as conventional medicines
  • Cost estimates on ID cards published before key technical decisions were taken
  • Wide misuse of the term "precautionary principle"
Your modern politico loves to claim his policies are "evidence based", rather than simply an expression of his particular hunches and prejuidices. The S&T Report gives us some chapter and verse on why we should never believe such claims without independent corroberation.

Independent corroberation? Hmm... yes, tricky. Obviously nobody who works for the government, obviously nobody with a stake, or an axe, or a bee, obviously not the BBC, or the Times, or the Lancet, or the Archbishop, or the judges... blimey, by the time you count them off, you're down to pretty small number.

In fact thinking about it now, the only people I really trust to give dispassionate scientific advice are myself and Major. Pity we're not scientists.

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