Politicians’ ignorance of science is disgraceful and dangerousby Mark Henderson / June 20, 2012 / Leave a comment
David King, former chief scientific adviser. Dorries and Tredinnick: a “hazy” grasp of the principles of science
On the evening of 14th October 2009, David Tredinnick, the Conservative MP for Bosworth, got to his feet in the House of Commons to warn ministers of a serious threat to public health. “At certain phases of the moon there are more accidents,” he gravely informed the House. “Surgeons will not operate because blood clotting is not effective, and the police have to put more people on the streets.” He stopped just short of mentioning werewolves.
So convinced is Tredinnick of the political significance of the movements of the heavens that he charged the taxpayer £755.33 for astrology software and consultancy services (which he later repaid when his expense claim became public). He is also an assiduous promoter of just about every alternative medicine on the market, and recently asked the health secretary to congratulate homeopathic chemists on their contribution to containing swine flu.
Tredinnick’s devoted commitment to the lunatic fringe of science has stirred little embarrassment among his colleagues on the Conservative benches. In fact, they have rewarded him for it: in the summer of 2010, they elected him to a position on the Health Select Committee. They also chose Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for mid-Bedfordshire, who has promoted an urban myth about a 21-week foetus grasping a surgeon’s finger to support her demand for restricting abortion. The story has been repeatedly denied by the surgeon.
The scrutiny of a government department that relies on science had been placed partly in the hands of two MPs whose grasp of its principles can at best be described as hazy. Such enthusiasm for bad science is thankfully rare in the Commons. But that they have been able to win safe seats and build successful parliamentary careers in spite of it illustrates a disconnect between science and politics that serves neither well.
If “anti-science” is rare, then so too are politicians with a deep understanding and appreciation of science: only one of the 650 MPs is a professional research scientist (there are 158 business people and 86 lawyers). Indifference to science and ignorance in the non-pejorative sense of just not knowing, is widespread. How else could two MPs with such disregard for evidence be elected to the backbench committee where they have most potential to cause harm?
Things are little better in the civil…