ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

22 November 2001


(see posting for 21 November 2001, "Greenfield pushes new Media Centre")

Thanks to Marcus Williamson for pointing out in relation to the appearance of this piece in the Independent, that the Independent's pro-GM science editor Steve Connor was a collaborator with Greenfield and Krebs in the industry-funded SIRCus science-media initiative.

According to the SIRC, Susan Greenfield is: " advisor to the Social Issues Research Centre and is centrally involved with us in the development of a Code of Practice for science and health reporting."

Still more revealingly, Marcus points out that Tristram Hunt, the co-author of the piece below with Greenfield the industry friendly Blairite barroness, operates out of Tony Blair's press office at no. 10.

This once again confirms the trajectory of this project since the first leaked memo out of the cabinet office indicating Blair's team were trying to plant GM-sympathetic scientists on the Today programme etc. to support government policy.

As Tom Wakeford has pointed out, the new science media centre is a direct assault on free speech:

"...Her Majesty's government is busy fashioning a new Whitehall watchdog. Initiated by the Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, it aims to combat what its promoter Lord Melvyn Bragg calls the "unfounded scare stories that are increasingly drowning out responsible reporting and sensible advice." New Labour has begun establishing what will effectively be Britain's first Ministry of Truth of which George Orwell's fictional rulers would be proud.

Senior figures in the Government, Royal Society and Royal Institution have decided that their much-prized Knowledge Economy necessitates the curtailment of free speech. As Bragg warned, "if ignorance stirred to hysteria by sensationalism were to get in the driving seat, thousands of highly skilled and remarkable opportunities for self-fulfilment, wealth creation and knowledge formation would be lost." Advocate of GM crops, Lord Taverne, argues that the media's "sloppiness" on issues of GM  was now "undermining the health of our democracy."

Before you can say "freedom of the press", a new Code of Practice has already been endorsed by Lord Wakeham's Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The Code recommends that journalists consult with approved experts, a secret directory of which is to be provided to "registered journalists with bona fide credentials". "New Stalinism in the Labour lab", Education Guardian, 15 June 2001,9826,507652,00.html

An example of how these media initiatives may already be making a difference was provided by a DAILY MAIL article (July 31, 2001) 'THE GM TOMATO THAT COULD FEED THE WORLD'. In it James Chapman, the Mail's Science Correspondent, quoted at length Prof Mike Gale of the John Innes Centre. How come? Gale is not an expert on either salt tolerant crops or tomatoes. He is, however, one of the scientists to be found listed in the new Royal Society register of "experts" available to help journalists get their stories right on GM. Prof Anthony Trewavas is another!

In the article Gale claims the GM salt-tolerant tomato "breakthrough" will "reduce public opposition to GM crops". He says nothing, however, about the non-GM means available of developing salt tolerance. Yet Gale could hardly fail to have known about the remarkable success of such non-GM research with a major food crop because it has been going on at the JIC -- or, more accurately, would be going on if the funding hadn't dried up!!

If anyone thinks the non-GM breakthrough may have been accidentally overlooked, see what JIC science communicators did in the case of 'super broccoli'!

The Blairite Dr Tristram Hunt is soon to lecture A level students on:

How very appropriate for someone who ends his article on the new science media centre with the claim, "At the moment we are given only half the story"!!!


On Wed, 21 Nov 2001 07:11:18 +0000, NGIN wrote:

According to this 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


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.

ngin bulletin archive