ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

9 December 2001

NO. 10'S PRESS OFFICE AND THE BLAIRITE BARONESS

A recent promotional article in the Independent for a new Science Media Centre to help hacks get their stories straight appears to have been written out of no. 10's press office with the Royal Institution's director's name just tagged on without even her prior knowledge... Not that the Blairite Baronesss is complaining exactly!

In late November NGIN drew attention to an article in the Independent promoting the Royal Institution's Science Media Centre which is to be launched this month.  According to the article, the co-authors were Blairite Baroness, Susan Greenfield who is the Director of the Royal Institution, and a certain Tristram Hunt.

'Who he?' you may wonder.

As Marcus Williamson, editor of "Genetically Modified Food - UK and World News", soon established, Hunt operates out of Tony Blair's press office at No. 10.

This should ring alarm bells for anyone who seriously believes the claims that the new Science Media Centre is an independent venture.

In fact, this whole effort to manipulate the media can be traced back to a leaked memo out of Blair's Cabinet Office showing Blair's men were trying to steer scientists supporting the government's policies on issues like GM foods into the path of the media, eg onto the BBC's
flagship radio news programme 'Today'.

That this was an active policy was suggested by an article in the Daily Telegraph, at the height of the Pusztai affair, which reported how Blair‚s spin doctors had worked to get a pro-GM article, written for them by Prof Jonathan Jones at the John Innes Centre, planted in the press.

In reality, the RI's Science Media Centre is the direct product of government support for a series of initiatives involving 'guidelines' for journalists, directories of experts etc. intended to help busy journalists get their stories straight!

These efforts have primarily involved the Royal Society, the Royal Institution and a food-industry funded pro-GM group, the SIRC, a metamorphosed social research company to whom Greenfield is an advisor and which boasts its ability to provide corporate clients with effective public relations. The SIRC appears to have derived significant funding from corporations with a powerful vested interest in food and health reporting. [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/scisale.htm]

The fig-leaf for the various media control efforts has been reports out of Blairite dominated parliamentary committees calling for the press to be reined in on issues  like GM.
[http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/thoughtpolice.htm]

A Financial Times article at the beginning of the year (Jan 30, 2001: 'New independent media centre aims to give scientists a voice') noted Lord Sainsbury's role in supportting the setting up of the Science Media Centre.

And in many ways the recent Independent article was equally up front about the kind of thing that is going on:

"The Royal Society is now taking a more proactive stance on science controversies. Recent briefing papers on stem-cell therapy [read 'embryo cloning] and nuclear energy have been deployed with far greater media acumen than usual. Stories are being placed and even "leaked" - a sure sign of professionalism. Also in London, the Science Museum is providing a forum for pro-science pressure groups and universities to meet; next year the British Association for the Advancement of Science relocates to the museum's Wellcome Wing."

Science and media man at the Science Museum, John Durant has long worked to promote GM with the food industry group, the Food and Drink Federation, while Glaxo-Welcome, like Aventis' parent company Rhône Poulenc, is among the corporations that have poured millions into the Royal Society's fundraising campaign.
[http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/rsfunding.htm]

Several of the various interrelated groups are about to admit to an even more formal alliance. According to the SIRC, "the Royal Society is now joining forces with SIRC / RI so that there will be just one set of guidelines."

After NGIN's revelations led to embarrasing media enquiries of Sir John Krebs as to what exactly the head of the UK's Food Standards Agency was doing working hand in glove with a food-industry funded group, the SIRC has moved to establish "a new charity", the "Health and Science Communication Trust", as its front for rolling out its media "Guidelines".
http://www.sirc.org/cgi-bin/discus/show.cgi?8/8.html

Now, in the latest twist, Marcus Williamson has established that the recent promotional in the Independent was actually straight out of no. 10's press office with the Royal Institution's director's name just tagged on, apparently without even her knowledge... not that the Blairite Baroness, who describes herself as one of those who has been accused of selling their souls to the private sector, is complaining exactly (see below).

A misleading Science Media Centre article originating out of Blair's press office... what an appropriate start to the new Science Media Centre!

***

From: Sophie Mansell <smansell@ri.ac.uk>
To: "'marcus.williamson@myrealbox.com'"
<marcus.williamson@myrealbox.com>
Subject: The Appliance of Science
Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2001 14:49:56 -0000

Thank you for your e-mail.

As Tristram wrote the article I am unable to comment, but I hope that he has got back to you to discuss it.

Kind regards

Dictated by Baroness Susan Greenfield

Sophie Mansell
PA to the Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE
The Royal Institution
21 Albermarle Street
London W1S 4BS
Tel: 020 7670 2910
Fax: 020 7670 2920/020 7499 2679
Email: smansell@ri.ac.uk
www.ri.ac.uk
Registered Charity No. 227938

***

 To: "'marcus.williamson@myrealbox.com'"
<marcus.williamson@myrealbox.com>
 Subject: The Appliance of Science
 From: Sophie Mansell <smansell@ri.ac.uk>
 Date: Fri, 7 Dec 2001 17:58:19 -0000

Sorry for the delay in replying to you but The Baroness Greenfield has been travelling extensively, and it has been difficult to speak to her.

She tells me she was not aware that her name was going to appear on the article, but she does however endorse it's sentiments.

I hope this clarifies her situation.

Sophie Mansell

PA to the Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE
The Royal Institution
21 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4BS
Tel: 020 7670 2910
Fax: 020 7670 2920/020 7499 2679
Email: smansell@ri.ac.uk
www.ri.ac.uk
Registered Charity No. 227938

***

According to the following article, "Greenfield's aim is to help journalists to find the right scientist to talk to at the right time." Scientists like Prof Anthony Trewavas, presumably. who the Royal Society list as a media expert available to advise journalists on getting their stories on genetic manipulation right.

Note also: "Things do seem to be improving slowly. Most people remain opposed to GM technology but are less opposed to researching it. Government support for the animal research company Huntingdon Life Sciences met with general approval. Parliament passed a Bill allowing research into stem-cell therapy [ie embryo cloning]."

The list is revealing as an earlier Financial Times article also identified "animal research, cloning and genetically modified food" as particular concerns of the new centre in terms of helping "sceptical and impatient journalists" get their stories right.
[New independent media centre aims to give scientists a voice', The Financial Times, Jan 30, 2001]

To fully understand the subtext of this Greenfield piece, and for how the Royal Society, Greenfield and her industry-funded allies have cooked up this scheme, see: 'The new Thought Police', SPLICE, May/June 2001
http://www.geneticsforum.org.uk/Thortpol.htm
 

THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE; SCIENTISTS FEEL THAT JOURNALISTS DON'T UNDERSTAND THEM. A NEW MEDIA CENTRE COULD BRING THE TWO CAMPS TOGETHER

The Independent (London)
November 20, 2001, Tuesday
By Tristram Hunt, Susan Greenfield

SCIENCE IS dictating how we live with a brutal momentum. Climate change, surveillance technology and, now, bio-terrorism are unassailable components of modern society. Yet the British public is still ignorant of the most elementary aspects of scientific inquiry, and the scientific establishment is arrogantly complicit in that ignorance.

While much of society is now media-savvy, science has been left behind. Groups opposed to scientific research are always there to take the call.

And scientists have shown a masochistic lack of interest in public debate; their preferred medium is the rarefied pages of peer-reviewed journals such as Nature. Scientists have a proper concern for the discipline of their method and are wary of speaking out before their thesis has been tested by colleagues. The memory of the cold fusion "breakthrough" , later proved horribly wrong, weighs heavy. Pressure groups talk in the black- and-white language loved by reporters; academics are usually more diffident. Scientists have been further scared away from public engagement by the media frenzy around GM technology in 1999, science's annus horribilis. The reduction of a complex branch of biological engineering to "Frankenstein food" was typical of media hopelessly ill equipped to discuss scientific progress rationally. And into the vacuum stepped big business. What inflicted the greatest damage on GM science was that the case for the defence was fronted by the bio-tech groups Monsanto and AstraZeneca.

Science's self-abnegation has undermined support for the very principle of scientific endeavour. At a time when most people glean scientific knowledge from the media, a refusal to engage with the popular press has been deeply detrimental. But this hapless amateurism may be about to change. Next month comes the official launch of the Royal Institute's Science Media Centre - a belated attempt to claw back some of the lost ground in public trust.

The centre is the brainchild of the institute's director, Susan Greenfield, and the broadcaster Lord Bragg of Wigton. As an Oxford professor in pharmacology and a media don, Greenfield has watched the collapse of faith in science and trust in scientists. Much of it, she believes, can be put down to an often unintentional media bias. While lobby groups get their message out quickly, science is left behind by the media cycle. Greenfield's aim is to help journalists to find the right scientist to talk to at the right time. "We need to help scientists understand the demands of the media," she says. And it is vital, says Lord Bragg, "that scientists learn to communicate if they are not to be marginalised".

The centre's target is busy news journalists who need the "science view". The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, says that making sure all journalists have a grasp of science issues is the only way to "raise the debate above tabloid sloganising". The challenge is to place science firmly in the public realm, where "it can be discussed properly as part of general news and culture".

The Royal Society is now taking a more proactive stance on science controversies. Recent briefing papers on stem-cell therapy and nuclear energy have been deployed with far greater media acumen than usual. Stories are being placed and even "leaked" - a sure sign of professionalism. Also in London, the Science Museum is providing a forum for pro-science pressure groups and universities to meet; next year the British Association for the Advancement of Science relocates to the museum's Wellcome Wing.

Is all this making a difference? Things do seem to be improving slowly. Most people remain opposed to GM technology but are less opposed to researching it. Government support for the animal research company Huntingdon Life Sciences met with general approval. Parliament passed a Bill allowing research into stem-cell therapy.

The idea that the more we learn about science the more we will love it is misguided. We can know as much as we like about genetic engineering and still oppose it. But with proper debate, we would at least have sufficient knowledge to choose whether to embrace new discoveries or fear them. At the moment we are given only half the story.

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