Friday 22 April 2016

'Inside Science' and the EU

Adam Rutherford

As expected, Radio 4's Inside Science covered the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee's report on the influence of EU membership on UK science. The report didn't specifically recommend In or Out  and added some negative points about EU regulation, but it was overwhelmingly positive about the UK's EU membership as regards science and argued that Brexit would mean a loss of influence. 

I expected the programme to reflect that (as that's what the report says) and, yes, Adam Rutherford (the Guardian journalist who presents Inside Science) did give a fair and full introduction to its findings. 

I have to admit that, on past experience, I was expecting the worst here as Adam doesn't always keep his (impeccably left-liberal) opinions to himself whilst presenting the programme, so this was all for the good.

Even better, he then interviewed persuasive people from both sides of the EU referendum argument - Viscount (Matt) Ridley and Professor Paul Boyle of Leicester University - and seemed to be allowing their discussion to flow without letting his own opinions intrude too much

So I thought, 'This deserves a clean bill of health'.

And then, just as the interview was nearing its close, Adam Rutherford unfortunately reverted to type and started steering the discussion towards a particular conclusion, beginning by putting a point to Matt Ridley which he'd already put to him at the start of their interview (so why bring it up again at the end of the interview?).

This was Adam Rutherford's opening question to Viscount Ridley:
I asked Matt Ridley if he's somewhat out of kilter, according to this very report, with the vast majority of the scientific community.
Ten minutes later then he asked it again, and...

Matt Ridley

...well, here's a transcription of the closing part of the discussion, so you can see for yourselves what happened thereafter (including the final leading question):
Adam Rutherford: Matt,  the report does say "overwhelming support" for remaining in Europe. You are somewhat out on a limb in the report committee and not representing science in general. Is it not the case we will have...the UK will not have a key role in decision-making for science, in the UK and across Europe, and in those funding decisions?   
Matt Ridley: I think we will still have a big role in the European Research Area, whether we're inside or outside the European Union. I don't actually think that it will make a huge difference in science. I think the main reasons for leaving Europe are different - i.e. to regain control over the people who make decisions that effect our lives and in order to re-embrace the world in terms of trade and intellectual property and so.  
Adam Rutherford: But that sounds like a non-scientific argument to me. That sounds like the broader issues of remaining in Europe separate from what you are on the committee to determine, which is the role of the EU for science.  
Matt Ridley: Well, again, to be fair, our committee didn't recommend remaining or leaving, either way. It remained neutral on that point. It simply explored the relationship between the UK and the EU in terms of science and found it to be a fruitful one. I thinks it's one that's very likely to continue, whether we're inside the EU or not.  
Adam Rutherford: Paul, does it matter? Do we need to be part of EU in order to maintain excellence in science? 
Paul Boyle
Paul Boyle: I think it absolutely does matter. We have a consensus of opinion. I think the report itself and, indeed, the words from the chair of that report were clear. There's overwhelming evidence. They found it very difficult to find researchers who would speak against. Don't forget: Not all researches receive money from the EU. It's not as if they're all necessarily benefiting individually from this. They can all see the benefits to the system in the UK of being part of Europe. I think it's essential. And, of course, as a vice-chancellor at a university, I'm hoping that our colleagues in universities, our students and others, make sure they are registered to vote and put the point forward. 
Adam Rutherford: Paul Boyle and Matt Ridley. 

1 comment:

  1. More bogus scaremongering. Scientists aren't going to suddenly raise the drawbridges and stop sharing data and ideas. Scientific exchange didn't start at the whim of the EU, and won't shut down out of spite. They're grasping at the flimsiest of straws now.


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