I believe that our policy is now very pro-science, a couple of key points:
- Scientific research requires proper funding. We value basic research and will ensure it is properly funded. We believe that it is important to have a wide body of research that is not funded or controlled by large corporations.
- We will increase public spending on R&D to at least 1% of GDP.
- We will ensure funding streams are long-term and ensure sufficient revenue streams are available for the maintenance and operation of all capital investments. We will separate subscriptions for international projects from budgets for research grants and pay those subscriptions directly.
- We will follow the Haldane principle that the Government may guide overall strategic direction, but research councils decide which projects are to be funded
- We will ensure that scientific advisors work in an environment of academic freedom and are able to always make recommendations free of political interference.
As a scientist and clinician I am as positive about good evidenced based policy as the next person, but having made the journey from idealistic young scientist who thought science had the answer for everything, to a more experienced clinician, I have to sound a note of caution.
So when I'm looking at making evidence based policy my question and concern is always 'what evidence'?
In an ideal world we would have controlled experiments comparing all our possible options in a non biased way, then we could make the evidence based decision on which is best.
But, this isnt an ideal world and the problems we have are:
1. The evidence not being there at all ( a big problems in my field of Vet. Medicine) because people haven't looked, often because its not considered to be likely to be profitable.
2. The evidence only relates to certain options/ outcomes because others have not been considered.
3. Bias. Even the best scientists are likely to be affected by their own value systems, education etc. They are only human after all.
4. The influence of who funds research.
This is a really key one for me. Using the example of GM is it any wonder that we have a lot of research going on to prove great benefit- funded by large corps. Now I have met highly qualified scientists from overseas who have genuine concerns about what is happening in countries where GM is already out there. There is no doubt in my mind that we need more conclusive answers to what is happening where GMOs have already been released into the environment before we start doing it here, but who is going to fund this? Not the agribusinesses that's for sure. So we end up with concerns that have not been scientifically validated, does this mean they should be disregarded, considering the massive funding bias...
5. Finally as the science philosopher Popper asked, can we ever prove anything in science? An experiment is conducted with a null-hypothesis, we seek to disprove/falsify something as nothing can be definitively proved. A simple example often cited is about swans. Before the discovery of Australia you would have seemed quite reasonable to have claimed to have proved swans were all white. But once Australia was discovered this claim was disproved, as there are black swans!. Who could have predicted that?
As scientists we must always be aware of the limitation of our claims.
Thats why I worry when any scientists make great claims about absolutely knowing something, especially when it isnt at all clear that they have attempted to falsify the hypothesis.
I think these factors are enough to encourage rigorous questionning of any science presented to us- which is really the basis of a healthy scientific community.
Attempts to bully and stifle debate and the screams of being 'anti-science' are probably the most anti-science responses of all.