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Burn the Evidence

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Sometimes you can learn a snippet of useful information from television. It’s rare, and fleeting, but can have impact.

The other night on terror-vision, I watched the sumptuous Fahrenheit 451, a film made in 1966 by Francois Truffaut, based on the science fiction book by Ray Bradbury. I forget which channel it was on. Who cares ? All television is the same in the end.

Partway through the film, as he is about to set fire to an entire library, the Fire Chief picks up a document that presumably documents health concerns about smoking. He explains something to the effect that since the information will no longer be available, nobody will be scared by it, and that that will be a good thing, as people need to be happy.

“True equality, it seems, can only be achieved when everybody is exactly the same…Smoking is bad for people, the Chief explains, and but now — in his world — there are no written studies to prove it, and so there is nothing to feel bad about. This particular argument struck a note with me and seemed particularly timely as I watched the film last night. We’ve all heard how Bush Administration officials have suppressed NASA reports on global climate change, over the objections of the scientists who conducted them. These reports state facts, not opinions…but again they might make us feel bad about the state of things…so best just to suppress them; keep them away from the eyes of a populace that is happy buying coffee at Starbucks, watching American Idol on flat-screen TVs, and buying groceries at Wal-Mart. I mean, “why bother people with that sort of filth?””

Today a new report “Science and the Corporate Agenda” outlines many areas of science, and scientific research in particular, that have been subject to undue influence by private corporations :-

Published by the Scientists for Global Responsibility, it maps the fields in which the major business groups have sought to promote their own interests through involvement in scientific research.

In the case of Climate Change, the report documents first the funding of Climate Change sceptics by the major oil companies, and then the lack of funding of research into Renewable Energy.

“How do these factors influence research at UK universities? …the available evidence does give cause for concern. A 2003 report co-published by the New Economics Foundation found that there were around 1,000 R&D [Research and Development] projects being undertaken in UK universities concerned with petroleum objectives, estimated at a total value of £67 million per year… projects… concerned with exploration and the engineering infrastructure for extraction, with only 2% of the funding being directed towards studying environmental impacts…The industry focuses its activities on relevant academic disciplines including geology, engineering (especially chemical), and those dealing with safety. This makes it difficult to find university departments in these areas which do not have connections with the industry…A number of universities – for example, Aberdeen, Cambridge, Heriot-Watt and Imperial College London – have received considerable funding from the fossil fuel industry to concentrate their expertise into dedicated research centres…Given the power and influence of the major fossil fuel companies and the relatively small size of the renewable energy sector, it is reasonable to continue to question whether the research and teaching in relevant university departments will give sufficient weight to efforts to move away from fossil fuels.”

This report is clear : the Fossil Fuel industry has a firm grip on academic research, and unless this is removed, we will only have more of the same.

Plus, the Fossil Fuel industry have waged a long and effective campaign to suppress the truth about Climate Change by financing and collaborating with sceptics. If the truth about Global Warming were to become more widely appreciated, it would seriously challenge the rights of the Fossil Fuel industry to exert such control over research and development.

The Fossil Fuel industry have a unique privilege – they take substances that come out of the ground for virtually no cost, and make huge profits out of them. It’s time that profit was turned into good science.

It’s clear that we need to stop burning the evidence on Climate Change, and wrest back control of the direction of academic science.

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