Feeds

back to article Stop snubbing top scientists' advice, Lords tell MPs

The government must tap up its top boffins sooner and heed their advice before putting policies into action, a House of Lords committee report concludes. The Science and Technology Committee, which has been looking into the role and function of Blighty's chief scientific advisers (CSAs), said that the government's experts were …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

Bronze badge
Joke

a bit like IT decisions

I can just imagine some head of IT back in the 90s approaching the system administrator and saying "Good news - I've bought 80 56k modems - one for each desktop so that everyone can have this internet!"

13
0
Angel

Re: a bit like IT decisions

I remember it well, specifically the overtime for fitting them over the weekend. And the free pizza. Every cloud...

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Ok...

"It's obvious that we shouldn't fund Homeopathy, because there is no evidence for it."

"It's obvious that AGW is real and things should be done about it."

I bet there are a lot of self certified "smart people" (some even commenting here) who believe one of those statements is wrong and that any scientist arguing for it is ok to be ignored, despite their lack of expertise in the area.

7
15
Anonymous Coward

Re: Ok...

I bet there are also a lot of self-certified "smart people" who believe one of those statements is true to some extent but is being handled shockingly badly, so badly in fact that the man in the street could be forgiven for having a few misguided doubts. (Or not so shockingly when we're talking about politicians.)

13
2
TRT
Silver badge

Re: Ok...

But the Government are firm believers in homeopathy. They take one good idea and dilute it repeatedly until only the essence of a good idea remains, but which costs ten times the amount of the original.

32
0

Re: Re: Ok...

Actually... Homeopathy involves diluting it until no part whatsoever of the original exists and you just have water. Then you remove the water too and replace it with a sugar pill.

Which thinking about it actually fits your comparison with politics even better....

4
0
TRT
Silver badge

Re: Re: Re: Ok...

That's what I said. Apart from I forgot about the sugar coated pill, the fancy packaging and the reassuringly glossy pamphlet telling you why it's the best option for you. The comparison breaks down, of course, in that homeopathic treatments are required by law to tell you that alternatives are available and that you should seek the advice of a qualified professional, but I'm sure that's only to keep pharma happy.

0
1
Joke

Re: Re: Re: Re: Ok...

"alternatives are available"

Such as smarties, minstrels or jelly tots.

3
0
Bronze badge

Turkeys

"Three quarters of forensic scientists were opposed to the closure of the Forensic Science Service".

In other news, three quarters of turkeys are opposed to Christmas. Farmers have been accused of failing to listen to the advice of CTAs (Chief Turkey Advisors).

4
24
Silver badge

Re: Turkeys

Unlike you, I actually read the New Scientist article in question. A large proportion of thsoe questioned weren't working for the FSS, but working in private labs / in Police labs.

Kinda blows your smug argument out of the water, eh?

17
1
Silver badge
Boffin

Math:

From the New Scientist article:

"A survey was circulated via the professional networking site LinkedIn, and 365 people responded. Many of them came from the FSS, but the survey also drew 65 responses from private and police labs...[later on:]Of the 21 police scientists who responded, ..."

So 365 total respondents - 65 non-FSS respondents = 300 FSS respondents, or ~82.2%

65 non-FSS - 21 police = 44 private respondents, or ~12.1%

21 police respondents = ~5.8%

(All percentages were rounded up; the values for police and private respondents were just over the 0.5% mark, so combined they would be very close to 17.8%, not 17.9%)

I would not consider 17.8% of respondents to be "a large proportion". However, digging deeper into the numbers does indicate that the non-FSS responders did, in general, agree that closing it would have a negative effect.

"Overall, 92.3 per cent of respondents said they thought the impact of the closure on criminal justice would be mostly negative, while 76.4 per cent said they thought it would lead to an increase in miscarriages of justice."

Since this isn't broken down by respondent type, the worst case we could argue is that it's possible that all 76.4% who though it would lead to more miscarriages were all in the FSS. However, even if we assume the worst, that the 92.3% is mostly from the FSS and the police, that indicates that a remainder of 5.3% of total respondents, or ~43.8% of private scientists, agree. In any case, at least 56.7% ((92.3-82.2)/17.8) of non-FSS respondents believed the impact would be negative.

That's some of the basic math. Now, if you want to get into the statistical validity of a voluntary-response survey administered through a social network, all bets are off.

6
0
Bronze badge

Re: Re: Turkeys

I think that was more an attempt to point out the possibly amusing implication than a smug dismissal of their concerns; it did come across as a bit of a "Well, duh!" idea when reading the article.

In any case it is in no one's self interest to have a major employment avenue closed off even if it is just the risk of having more competitors in the market.

1
0
Silver badge

@Steve Knox: So that means any credible polling firm

would toss the survey for pre-selection bias.

0
0
Gav
Unhappy

The alternative to actually working

"no scientific basis for the alternative treatment"

Please don't use that term. There is no such thing as "alternative" treatment. There is treatment and there is quackery. If homoeopathy worked, even if we didn't understand how it worked, it would be a "treatment". It doesn't work, therefore it isn't a treatment. Calling it an "alternative" is only valid if you consider an alternative to a treatment being no treatment.

25
2
Coat

Re: The alternative to actually working

Tim Minchin did a song on the subject.. copied from somwhere online:

"By definition", I begin

"Alternative Medicine", I continue

"Has either not been proved to work,

Or been proved not to work.

You know what they call alternative medicine

That’s been proved to work?

Medicine."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U&

12
0

Re: Re: The alternative to actually working

Damn you! Beat me to it!

1
0
Trollface

Re: The alternative to actually working

It is a treatment.

An ineffective treatment to be precise.

1
2
Silver badge

Re: The alternative to actually working

Surprisingly, I'm with the Libertarians on this one.

I don't object to the government providing two labels/certificates for a given treatment (proven safe OR proven safe + effective), and then letting consumers make their own choices on how to spend their money.

Of course I suppose this does present a problem when all your healthcare comes from the government.

0
1
Anonymous Coward

If they actually investigate so called alternative therapy more, then we'd know what ones do work and can be called a treatment, and what can be called placebo or quackery..

I am all for including these treatments in the NHS when their proven to have a benefit.

if you think alternatives to traditional medicine dont work, think on this...

The (only?) cure to malaria came from Chinese traditional medicine..

So without Traditional Chinese Medicine, there would be no cure (unfortunately it does rely on plant so is hard to mass produce last I heard)

0
13
Silver badge
Boffin

"Alternative Therapy" has been scientifically investigated.

That's why it's called Alternate. Do you know what they call Alternative Therapy that works?

Therapy.

4
1
Anonymous Coward

"The (only?) cure to malaria came from Chinese traditional medicine.."

Nonsense

9
0
Gold badge

Re: "The (only?) cure to malaria came from Chinese traditional medicine.."

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaria#History_of_treatment

"The first effective treatment for malaria came from the bark of cinchona tree, which contains quinine. This tree grows on the slopes of the Andes, mainly in Peru. The indigenous peoples of Peru made a tincture of cinchona to control malaria. The Jesuits noted the efficacy of the practice and introduced the treatment to Europe during the 1640s, where it was rapidly accepted.[128] It was not until 1820 that the active ingredient, quinine, was extracted from the bark, isolated and named by the French chemists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou.[129][130] In the 20th century, chloroquine replaced quinine as treatment of both uncomplicated and severe falciparum malaria until resistance supervened. Artemisinins, discovered by Chinese scientists in the 1970s, are now recommended treatment for falciparum malaria, administered in combination with other antimalarials as well as in severe disease."

So rather than being "Traditional Chinese" and hard to mass-produce because it is extracted from a plant, it turns out to be from South America and something we've known how to make for a century and a half. That's surely close enough for the "Alternative Medicine" crowd?

14
0
Facepalm

@AC

So what you are saying is, if the drug companies investigated traditional medicies, found the ones which work, and isolated the active ingredients, they might find lots of useful new drugs?

That is a really good idea.

Has anyone told them?

11
0
Anonymous Coward

Just to be clear

The therapy you are talking about is from the Artemesia plant. For example read: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/194160.stm

This is the whole point about alternative therapy. It is alternative until someone studies it properly in a controlled experiment to figure out whether it works. If it does, it becomes a mainstream therapy. If it does not work, it remains an alternative therapy.

Most (but not all) alternative therapy has already gone through this process. So most (but not all) alternative therapy that is still called alternative, has actually been shown to be worthless (with more or less believability).

2
1
Silver badge

Re: Re: "The (only?) cure to malaria came from Chinese traditional medicine.."

@Ken Hagan

I think you are referring to Chinese Sweet Wormwood:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_annua#Malaria_treatment

0
0
Silver badge

@Just Thinking

One of the key points proponents of so called Alternative Medicines make is that while pharma knows this, they can't make money at it. If the cure is just eating a mash of three plants found in the jungle, you can't put IP restrictions on its mass production. Which means whoever researches and proves the treatment looses billions and everybody else profits from it.

I'll still take traditional medicine over Alternative myself, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize the validity of their argument. It's just that like everybody else out there, I haven't figured out a way to make money from it either.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

My personal beef ...

is with the alice-in-wonderland criminalisation of cannabis, in the face of all scientific evidence.

Why be a scientist, when you can write for the Daily Mail ?

13
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: My personal beef ...

That came from the paper industry, who didn't like that you can make hemp into a whole bunch of different things.

1
1
Silver badge

Re: Re: My personal beef ...

And to a certain extent, en the international stage, from pressure from Egypt, who realised that their cotton exports would be more profitable if people stopepd using hemp fibre...

0
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: My personal beef ...

Or you could read about some actual scientific studies, rather than listen a bunch of dope heads.

Cannabis: scientifically proven to dull the intellect of users for up to 3 months after a single use. Continued/repeated use makes you stupid, why do you think the term "dope-head" was coined.

Cannabis: scientifically proven to increase mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenic episodes.

There are some medical uses, such as pain relief for MS sufferers, where screwing up you brains chemistry is regarded as the lesser symptom. Just like chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used for cancer -you would do just for kicks, unless you were some special kind of stupid!

1
1
FAIL

Education does not equate to Knowledge

This is simply a case of boffins complaining about their obvious superior thinking is being ignored. That clearly the world should be run by only by those such as themselves.

1
18
Silver badge

Re: Education does not equate to Knowledge

And who would you trust? A politician with an ideology, or a scientist that's actually done his research?

12
0
Gold badge

Re: who would you trust?

Crisp, it's even simpler than you suggest. One doesn't *need* to trust a scientist because the evidence is in the public domain. (Sadly, for politicians the evidence is often in the public domain as well, but they refuse to learn from it.)

9
0
Thumb Down

Re: Education does not equate to Knowledge

@David Kelly - are you seriously trying to suggest that ignorance is a better alternative?

In a world where there are an awful lot of interesting & complicated things that interact with other interesting and complicated things in interesting & yet more complicated ways, we've got pretty much two options in terms of how we approach centralised governance:

1) Central governance appeals to specific individuals with specific expertise in particular areas, and heeds their advice on how to achieve particular goals relating to those areas, or

2) Central governance decides that it knows best about all topics in all areas, and makes %^&* up as it goes, occasionally having an unpleasant case of insight whereupon it realises (for mercifully brief periods of time) that it might not actually know best.

It may be difficult to rationalise, for example, a "tough on drug crime" social policy when evidence tends to suggest that the criminal penalties for drug possession are not proportionate to the measurable individual or social harm associated with their usage, but on the other hand a social policy based on scientifically validated research concerning those drugs is less likely to be an embarrassing failure a few years down the line. (Of course, such a principle also makes it harder to continue levying ever higher taxes upon the consumption of two noxiously harmful but socially accepted intoxicants....)

Individual scientists (or even groups of scientists) can balls things up and/or act the bellend. The scientific method as a whole, however, ensures that no crap science can escape detection. (Where "crap science" is of course a moving target, but let's not get distracted).

Anyway : TL,DR version is "shove off bellend, science FTW".

17
0
Silver badge

@Captain Underpants: Or you could try some original thinking:

The problem in both instances is centralised government, and therefore ought to be avoided except where absolutely required.

0
0

Re: Education does not equate to Knowledge

Part of the problem to my mind is that this seems to be seen as an either or option. Personally I'd prefer not to see either side making policy without the input of the other side. At the end of the day it's governments job to set policy, BUT they should always at least consult those in the know before doing so. There's simply no excuse for setting a policy that fails when the relevant people could have predicted it if they'd simply been asked, but there are occasions where other issues might outweigh the science.

For me I think the key would be having greater transparency in the whole process. Ministers should be able to choose which advice they heed and which they ignore, but where they choose to ignore it they should have good overriding reason for doing so, and that reasoning should be documented publically. If they know that their decision to ignore scientific advice and their reasons behind it are documented and able to be made public, it might help focus their minds to ensure they really do have good reason to decide one way or the other, and aren't simply trying to appease the Daily Mail reading voters.

1
0

Re: @Captain Underpants: Or you could try some original thinking:

@Tom 13:

How does replacing one group of policymakers with lots of groups of policymakers help? I mean, within a given country you'll still have boundaries for policy enforcement and the more differing regional policies you have the greater effort you spend on defining what the boundaries are and how to deal with edge cases.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

:)

"NHS and Department of Health funding of homeopathy"

Ha-ha-ha!

0
0
Thumb Down

Anyone remember Prof. Nutt?

He's bound to be rolling around laughing, why wasn't there such an uproar when he was fired for giving his honest opinion instead of the one that parliment wanted?

8
0
Silver badge
Flame

Re: Anyone remember Prof. Nutt?

very well.

And he did not give his honest "opinion". He made an *observation* (that horse riding was more dangerous than ecstasy), based on the *evidence* - which is a completely different thing.

When the ACMD recommended cannabis remain a Class "C"[1] drug, back in 2009, I heard Jacqui Smith, unchallenged, tell a reporter that we couldn't just go round making laws based on science[2]. No, dear, you're right. Let's treat coloured people differently. There's no *scientific* reason, but we can't let ourselves be taken in by reason now, can we ?

[1] The whole alphabet soup of drug laws in the UK is beyond parody.

[2] Her argument was that the ACMD wasn't qualified to take into account the social aspects of policy. Which is an outright LIE (one propogated by the Daily Mail until people thought it was true). The ACMD is *specifically* tasked to investigate ALL aspects of policy - social included. Which is why they have ex-policemen, and social scientists on board (all of whom backed the recommendation).

16
0

Re: Re: Anyone remember Prof. Nutt?

The thing that makes me laugh (somewhat bitterly) is this;

When it comes to matters of policy, like (using the OP example) the classification of cannabis. The important, detailed, scientific bits are ignored. Largely because they are concerned about what the populace will think (We have to consider social aspects as well as the scientific basis).

When it comes to their wrongdoing (expenses being a fine example), suddenly the intricate details of the rules are very important, despite what the populace might think (I know people are upset, but I didn't break the rules).

6
0
Holmes

Government isn't about being right.

Scientists can only tell you if something is really true or not. Government is interested in what the voters think is true or not. The two are so different that Scientists are of little use in formulating public policy, because if they fall on the wrong side of public opinion, then the government is in trouble.

If you don't like the answer you think you'll get, then don't ask!

2
1
Bronze badge

Re: Government isn't about being right.

Does the public magic opinions out of thin air?

The public know politicians are all lying toads and that scientists generally are not. Politicians more than ever are (mis)using scientists to make voters think things are true or not.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Scientists should be consulted as early as possible where their quantifiable, demonstrable knowledge helps. However, as in the case of AGW, their knowledge is quantifiably, demonstrably wrong, i.e. the climate seems not to be paying a blind bit of attention to their predictions. In other words, their predictions need to be taken with a pinch of salt and the price of acting on them weighed extremely critically against the price of not acting and waiting to see how their predictions pan out. This would've saved us an awful lot of money in the case of AGW, more than enough to pay for the financial crisis.

5
13
Silver badge
FAIL

Utter bollocks. Go away and research what you are saying based on actual facts.

1
2
Anonymous Coward

It isn't bollocks

The CO2 positive forcing is what's bollocks and the whole AGW scare story is based on it. Climate science is the bastard child of social science; a home for "scientists" for whom things like physics were too challenging.

Climate science is an embarrassment and is giving science a bad name.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

P.S.

Glad to see you guys have taken the time to create some more accounts. About time you worked for your money.

0
0
Thumb Down

Placebo effect.

The placebo effect is very powerful. When you say "it doesn't work", what precisely are you asserting here? If you've ever heard of The Decline Effect, you will know that a lot of conventional medicine doesn't work either over the medium to long term!

No, I don't want scientific advisers framing policy. There are enough advocates calling themselves scientists in the world already. If anything we need them to bugger off from getting involved in policy, because given the absolutely cretinous state of the UK's Climate Change policy (£700,000,000,000 cost to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% to 2040, resulting in a 0.08C reduction in global average temperature), it seems their advice is so complete rubbish.

Thanks for listening.

2
14
Silver badge
Mushroom

Placebo != Homeopathy

Placebo is having a sugar pill and charging it the cost of the sugar.

Homeopathy is having a sugar pill and charging it 100 times the cost of sugar.

See why the pharmaceutical industry is pushing for homeopathy?

5
1

Re: Placebo effect.

@Robinson - the placebo effect *is* powerful, but it's also complex and, as you might expect given the number of interacting complex systems that make up the average mammalian organism, difficult to predict without an awful lot of information. So let's not go and pretend that we can just toss out armchair judgements with any useful sort of accuracy, yeah?

Also - if you don't want actual scientists helping to frame policy, who do you prefer? Given the choice between someone with expertise in the area and someone without, I'll take the expert every time even if they tell me something I don't like. Better to hear it now than eg in ten years time when the policy in question is a colossal failure and an embarrassment for everyone attached to it, surely.

(I'm not saying the Climate Change policy is a great idea, but I suspect it's a great case of "good intentions, %^&* implementation")

1
0

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.