Republic of Moreland

May 17, 2007

When ‘science’ is bought and sold

Filed under: Brunswick,food,health,politics — Kath @ 2:31 pm

Brunswick Labornet reports a science and maths boost for public schools around here. A good thing. And timely, considering Australia’s Chief Scientist Jim Peacock has just come out and said that our brightest students are avoiding science.

But considering some other wild things Jim Peacock claimed this week, and considering the Bracks’ governments’ apparent closed shop and done deals on important science issues, I’m wondering what sort of science will be encouraged in our schools. Will it be evidence-based science? Will it be science that serves the needs of people? Or will it be the sort of science endorsed by our Chief Scientist? His website doesn’t, as you might expect, endorse “Empirical, disinterested science that meets the needs of society”, but “An independent perspective, based in industry and science”. A big difference when you think about it. And note that industry comes before science.

(Also, don’t you love that euphemism “independent”? As in “independent schools”, aka “commercial learning shops on the corporate welfare gravy train”?)

Here’s how the Bracks government decides on GM food issues. It doesn’t consult the 80 per cent of farmers who support a ban on GM food crops; nor does it consult the majority of shoppers who don’t want it. In all polls taken by industry and AC Neilson, and all media polls, the majority of Australians reject GM food. (This majority, according to our Chief Scientist Jim Peacock, are in fact “self-serving” “unprincipled minorities”. So much for empirical science advice. And a bit rich, coming from someone who probably stands to gain from his current lobbying to overturn GM bans.) Nor does the Bracks government consult with our overseas markets that reject GM produce; nor with those independent scientists who oppose GM foods.

gm-for-vic.jpgInstead, it holds closed-shop meetings at Parliament with the industry lobbyists, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Now, from its history, it would appear to me the IPA doesn’t endorse empirical science. The IPA has a history of lobbying for the tobacco industry, and I’ve got a nice little collection of climate-change denying and GM-promoting literature from them. They’re famously secretive about their funding sources, but they’re reportedy sponsored by Monsanto and other multinational giants.

Now, with the ban on GM food crops up for review, since members of the Victorian government are happy to hold meetings at Parliament with whacko industry lobbyists, will it hold meetings with those whacko citizen-supported groups like, say, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Conservation Foundation, the Network of Concerned Farmers, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace and GeneEthics? After all, these independent (of industry funding) groups, unlike the IPA, have widespread electoral support. In a democracy, you’d think that counts.

But somehow I don’t think so. I had a word with a couple of these groups this morning. They tried to RSVP to go to this closed-shop meeting, but they were told they couldn’t.

So come on, guys at Labornet, defend this one.



  1. Don’t intend to. This sort of thing happens all the time and I would be happy to see all sides on the GM argument get a chance to talk to MPs at Parliament or anywhere else.

    In the recent debate about stem cell research while all the media attention was on the activities of the opponents in holding two workshops in Parliament, there was less attention given to the trips out to Monash University organised by proponents of the changes, briefings given to MPs and a public hearing of teh Scrutiny of Acts Parlaimentary Committee which had evidence presented from all sides of the debate.

    To suggest that because a Labor, Liberal and National MP who have a point of view are holding a workshop that this means a decision has been made is drawing a long bow. I think most MPs would welcome another forum being held in Parliament. I sure would.

    Comment by Chris Anderson — May 17, 2007 @ 6:18 pm | Reply

  2. I’m not the only one drawing that long bow, Chris. The Sunday Age report seems to suggest it’s a pretty done deal, although I noticed there was a bit of backtracking in subsequent media reports.
    And if there ever was guilt-by-association that eclipses that of Burke, it’s association with the IPA.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — May 17, 2007 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  3. ’tis a pity th eonly person who ever engages through the Brunswick Labor site is a piffling hack stuck in a dingy office eating pies. Doesn’t Carlo carli do anything anymore now he has been thrown out of any decision making by the viscious right of Bracks and Brumby?? at least my local member christine campbell gets her name in the paper pushing the papal line on anything to do with science.

    Comment by peter robertson — May 17, 2007 @ 7:33 pm | Reply

  4. Be good to stay on topic, Peter, and refrain from playing the man.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — May 18, 2007 @ 10:20 am | Reply

  5. I agreew with the IPA comment. I grew up (politically) in the early 1990s when the IPA was one of Kennett’s key backers so their invovlement with a Labor MP will not have gone unnoticed.

    Comment by Chris Anderson — May 18, 2007 @ 4:17 pm | Reply

  6. I can imagine. But more worrying than the IPA’s political affiliations is their wingnut crankery. This is an organisation that has reportedly denied links between passive smoking and cancer, for example (they’ve reportedly been sponsored by the likes of Phillip Morris).

    One of this seminar’s speakers is the IPA’s Dr Jennifer Marohasy, who claims that the Murray isn’t really in crisis (something even John Howard acknowledges) and that CSIRO scientists who reckon so are “environmental activists masquerading as scientists” (See John Quiggin on this:

    Dr Marohasy, who as far as I recall earned her doctorate in chemical herbicides, is also a climate change skeptic, claiming that:
    “It’s ambiguous. It’s not clear that climate change is being driven by carbon dioxide levels.”

    In today’s paper the IPA admits being sponsored by Monsanto. Monsanto, you’ll remember, claimed its Agent Orange and DDT and PVC electrical insulator were safe, and it has repeatedly been convicted of criminal and environmental offences around the world (Google them in ‘news’ and you’ll see what I mean).

    So what a Labor MP is doing associating with such cranks and convicted criminals is beyond me. What kind of company is Luke Donnellan MP keeping? I think it would be fair for the Narre Warren electorate to demand an explanation.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — May 18, 2007 @ 6:16 pm | Reply

  7. Oh, and the IPA famously started the Astroturf front group, the Australian Environmental Foundation. See:

    I think the Australian Conservation Foundation, the real environment group, tried to sue them for their name, but couldn’t.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — May 18, 2007 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

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    Comment by sprint ringtones — July 3, 2007 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

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