The Scottish government is becoming notorious for ignoring scientific advice, or not even asking for scientific advice on scientific questions. The latest example is the blanket ban on GM technology, which has drawn a blistering reproof from the country’s most respected scientific and intellectual organisation, the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This comes hard on the heels of the decision to ban fracking, when the scientific advice is to allow it within a suitably stringent regulatory framework. It is not as if GM food represents a new technology; it has been in use, and intensely studied, for over 20 years (see e.g. here).
But just when you think that things couldn’t get any worse, they got worse. Responding to criticism, the First Minister’s official spokesman has explained that since GM technology is “by its very nature hugely controversial”, it would endanger the reputation of the Scotland’s valuable food and drink sector. What evidence did it have for this assertion? None.
And just to ram the point home, he added: “Sometimes you have to be bold and take decisions that you think are in the national interest, and that’s what this was about. If ministers sat on their hands, and decided that they weren’t going to take any decisions until they had a report, scientific or otherwise, telling them what to do, you guys would be saying ‘when are you going to get your finger out and do something’. Sometimes you have to take bold decisions and do what you think is right for the country.”
So now we know. We have a Government that is prepared to decide “what is right for the country”, without waiting for any “report, scientific or otherwise”, that would supply the necessary evidence on which to base its decisions. How can such a Government even begin to develop a rational policy for food and energy, the most important problems facing the world today?
We (all of us) make up stories with ourselves as heroes, and, with the best of motives, choose our opinions to suit our self-images. Rational consideration of alternatives is a deeply unnatural activity. And so we have people who see themselves as Good Environmentalists advocating policies that deeply damage the environment. And politicians abdicating leadership to pander to them.