British Scientists May Soon Be Unable To Speak Freely About Their Research

As Canada moves forwards, the U.K. takes a step back. lakov Kalinin/Shutterstock

Science is, by its very nature, objective. It uses data, backed up by demonstrable, empirical evidence, to try and explain as much of life, the universe, and everything as possible. The facts are often willfully distorted by politicians, though, particularly when it comes to man-made climate change and, on occasion, vaccines.

Sometimes, however, the facts are completely suppressed by political agencies. This was most recently and publically demonstrated in Canada under the Harper administration, when researchers funded by the state were banned from talking freely to the media. Even when they could speak out, their responses were highly moderated and censored by the government. Now, a similar thing may be about to happen in the U.K.

As reported by the Guardian, many British scientists will soon be legally blocked from speaking out on key issues affecting the nation, from genetic modification and stem cell research to dietary dangers and, yes, climate change. In a depressing state of affairs, the British government is about to adopt the very same Canadian-style gagging system just as the newly-installed Trudeau government there has repealed it.

“This is extremely worrying,” William Sutherland, a professor of zoology at the University of Cambridge, told the Guardian. “If they go ahead with this new anti-lobbying clause, then we will have many more poor decisions being made by government for the simple reason that it will have starved itself of proper scientific advice.”

Fracking researchers, if government-funded, may not be allowed to effectively speak out on any negative effects they may uncover. Calin Tatu/Shutterstock

As of May, researchers that received grants from the government – which covers a broad range of topics, and a vast number of academic institutions – will not be allowed to use the results of their research to lobby politicians for change. The aim of the edict, proposed by the Cabinet Office, is to stop non-governmental organizations trying to affect legislative change. Senior scientists and research groups see this, quite rightly, as a straightforward assault on academic freedom.

The now-scrapped Canadian system was primarily aimed at federally funded scientists working in fossil fuel extraction industries. It’s clear that not only are fossil fuels dooming the planet through dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, but their extraction is contributing tonnes of toxins to worsening air pollution. Fracking, a relatively new form of natural gas extraction, is proving particularly controversial.

Of course, stopping scientists talking about the negative effects of these industries will exacerbate climate change, while improving the short-term economic prospects of those industries. At the time, the Canadian government was keen to ignore the former and focus on the latter. With fracking on the increase in the U.K. thanks to its government support, this new gagging order will no doubt have the same effect.

Although the Cabinet Office said that it might consider waivers for certain researchers, allowing them to speak out on certain issues, nothing has come of it so far. Fiona Fox, head of the Science Media Centre, said that if passed, this clause will “be a victory for ignorance and a blow for the evidence-based policy that our politicians claim to want.”

Science is, at heart, a search for truth – it cannot, by nature, be gagged and still operate properly. If you are worried by this, get in touch with the government or sign this petition.

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