Killing in the name of

Interesting debate going on at the moment on SW Politics Show about when politics and science clash. Should it always be evidence-led, or are there other concerns elected people need to take into account? I’ve blogged about this before, and also about what happens when the scientific evidence points both ways – i.e. the tendency of MPs to find the bit of science that best supports their stance, and the difficulties in genuinely trying to weigh up the pros and cons when one isn’t a scientist oneself.

Today the subject was badger culling. The previous Government commissioned an in-depth study, the Bourne review, on the efficacy of badger culling as a means of preventing bovine TB. This, the most thorough survey of its kind, concluded that culling was not the answer and in some cases might actually spread bovine TB (because, as I recall, culls would displace badgers into other areas).

The new Government has chosen to ignore this, and has said it will start a  “science-led policy” of culling again… (as opposed to a pandering to the NFU-led policy?) And of course someone on the Politics Show managed to find a  more recent study, which can be claimed to give scientific backing to culls. Not as thorough or authoratitive as the Bourne review, but it serves their purpose.

So where are Sense about Science, and Ben Goldacre and his disciples, on this issue? I’ve just searched for badgers on the Sense about Science site – no returns. 

See below for my first parliamentary Q on this… more will follow.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what her policy is on badger culling; and if she will make a statement.

James Paice (Minister of State (Agriculture and Food), Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; South East Cambridgeshire, Conservative)The Government have committed that as part of a package of measures, we will introduce a carefully-managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB.

We need to consider all the issues carefully, including the scientific evidence, to work out the detail of the package to ensure we get it right. We will be looking at vaccine and culling options as part of that package.

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  • Riff Devin  On June 6, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Interesting stance on science.

    I seem to recall Labour getting it very wrong when it came to drug advice policy – so much so that the advisory board quit en masse.

    I think you’re rather being a glass house on this.

  • kerrymccarthy  On June 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Well that was rather the point I was making! Why, when Labour was lambasted over its failure to follow Prof Nutt on drugs (and I think there are far more valid arguments that drugs policy shouldn’t be solely science-led, as there are issues of social policy, messages, etc), why aren’t the same people challenging the current Government’s claims to be adopting a ‘science led’ approach when they aren’t?

    • Riff Devin  On June 7, 2010 at 7:15 am

      I couldn’t disagree more. Labour’s stance on “drugs and social policy” in that area was confused and authoritarian and people didn’t know where they stood from one week to the next. The reactionary stance against scientific advice under Brown made no sense to anyone outside of cabinet. It’s a fair point that drug policy impacts the lives of more people than badgers but to cry foul is frankly a bit rich. This sounds more like a whinge “they did it to us so we must do it to them” than anything else I’m afraid.


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