|Complaint about Science Media Centre and the LM group (16/4/2007)|
1.Introduction to the submission - LobbyWatch
NOTE: It may be useful to read this in conjunction with the George Monbiot interview about the LM group that LobbyWatch recently published at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7748
1.Introduction to the submission
Below is an edited version of a submission made by the writer and investigative journalist, Andy Rowell, to the board of the Science Media Centre (SMC) at the suggestion of one of its board members.
The submission raises concerns about the role of the SMC's director, Fiona Fox, in the light not just of her long-term involvement with the climate-sceptical LM group but of the SMC's lack of proactivity in combatting climate change denial - something that stands in marked contrast with the SMC's record on a number of other issues, such as GM crops.
Andy Rowell's submission arose out of a talk he gave at a seminar organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry on The Science of Global Warming. On the panel with Rowell were Professor Keith Briffa of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, Professor John Mitchell - Chief Scientist at the Met Office, and Professor Colin Prentice of Bristol University.
Rowell was asked to shed light in his presentation on the often well-funded lobby groups that either deny that human-induced global warming is occurring or maintain that it's no problem. He explained how large oil corporations are funding groups to publish work questioning the link between climate change and fossil fuel emissions, and detailed a number of the groups in the UK who seem to be particularly active in encouraging climate change scepticism.
Amongst the sceptics Rowell talked about were Julian Morris and Roger Bate of the International Policy Network (IPN), a free market lobby group that has received nearly $300,000 to date from Exxon. Rowell also noted the IPN's close collaboration with the LM group, who also actively promote the idea that climate change is nothing to worry about.
The LM group were not only behind the magazine LM (originally known as Living Marxism), but also its successor organisations: Spiked-online and the Institute of Ideas. Rowell also mentioned that this group included people working in a number of other organisations such as Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre.
After the talk Rowell was approached by an SMC board member who asked him to justify his reference to the SMC, and this later lead on to the suggestion that he submit his concerns in writing to the SMC's Board. This he did on behalf of SpinWatch - www.spinwatch.org, which monitors corporate PR and spin. Not for the first time, the SMC's Board completely rejected the concerns about its director.
There are many interesting points that come out of Rowell's carefully referenced submission. Rowell points out, for instance, that - at the time of writing - out of about 120 press releases the SMC has issued "only about four have been on climate." This despite climate change being a major contemporary scientific issue and one where there's massive anti-science lobbying, much of which is ending up in the popular media.
Rowell notes how the small number of SMC press releases on climate compares "to over 40 on issues to do with genetics and roughly another dozen each on animals in research and GM crops." He also notes how the independence of those whose views the SMC has promoted to journalists is open to serious question. Industry executives, lobbyists and people connected to the LM group are all presented in SMC releases that claim to be giving the views of "the scientific community", and often without making their affiliations clear.
Perhaps the most startling material in Rowell's submission, though, are the extracts he includes from an internal Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) document authored by the SMC's director, and obtained by LobbyWatch and copied to Rowell. Fox has always tried to downplay her RCP/LM involvement as just short-term and marginal, despite clear evidence that she wrote a large number of articles for LM, including hugely controversial pieces involving genocide denial and support for terrorism. The leaked internal discussion document confirms the extremity of Fiona Fox's involvement in what many regard as a fundamentalist political sect.
In it Fox tells fellow RCP supporters about a friend who developed ME and mental health problems, and how she (Fox) often thinks "there but for the grace of the RCP go I". Fox also says this same "secret thought" occurs to her when she meets up with old friends who've left the RCP, because it's only thanks to the RCP that she's "one of the few people in the world who can really understand". Fox goes on to describe how she spent every Saturday for a year on the streets unsuccessfully trying to persuade members of the public that Oxfam, and the kind of humanitarianism it represents, is perhaps the biggest threat to world peace.
Rowell asks how on earth it could have come about that a tiny extremist faction with a magazine that only ever had a small number of contributors, now has so many of its supporters and contributors serving as leading lights in a whole series of influential science related groups. This is particularly the case when - like Fiona Fox - they often have no relevant background in science.
2.Submission to the Board of the SMC
What I said in my talk was that the people behind Spiked and the Institute of Ideas (IOI) are pro-corporate libertarians who are climate sceptics. I said that this network includes people working in other organisations such as Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre. I also said that the Spiked network had collaborated with [Exxon-funded] TechCentralStation, the Royal Institution [closely associated with the SMC - see below] and the [Exxon-funded] International Policy Network (IPN).
* Firstly that the Institute of Ideas (IOI) and Spiked collaborate with known climate sceptics such as Roger Bate and Julian Morris of the IPN
Their collaboration began in the late nineties when two key Living Marxism activists, Frank Furedi and Bill Durodie, started writing for the European Science and Environment Forum and Roger Bate, ESEF's founder, began writing for Living Marxism (the forerunner of Spiked and IOI).
Bate has also contributed to Spiked-Online, writing on issues such as DDT, GM and depleted Uranium. The latter article by Bate is co-written with Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, who writes for 21st Century Science and Technology - the magazine of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, a scientist who believes that 'The Ice Age is Coming.'
Julian Morris first spoke at a Spiked conference in May 2002. In January 2003, Morris debated the benefits of recycling on Spiked. Two months later, in March 2003, Spiked held a conference on 'GM food labelling' - co-hosted with the global PR company, Hill and Knowlton and the IPN. Pro-GM speakers included Gregory Conko, the director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and co-founder of the avidly pro-biotech AgBioView, and Tony Gilland, ex-Living Marxism and now the Science and Society director at the Institute of Ideas. The following month, Morris spoke again at a Spiked event.
* Spiked/IOI are Climate Sceptics
If you look at Spiked's section on global warming7 it is consistently sceptical and includes articles from known sceptics such as Philip Stott [who appeared in the recent documentary by the LM-linked director, Martin Durkin, The Great Global Warming Swindle] and from people associated with the International Policy Network, such as Dominic Standish.
It has also held conferences with known sceptics and this is the one I mentioned in my talk. In May 2003 Spiked, TechCentralStation and the Royal Institution held a conference on risk, called 'Panic Attack'. It was co-sponsored by the IPN, the Social Issues Research Centre (see below) and Mobile Operators Association, amongst others. The afternoon session, titled the Heated Debate was about global warming and included Bjorn Lomborg - author, The Skeptical Environmentalist and Sallie Baliunas a science co-host of [the Exxon funded] TechCentralStation.
* Ex-LM Network
There is a network of ex-Revolutionary Communist Party/Living Marxism people concentrating on science-related issues, particularly those involving either genetics and/or the environment. It is very difficult to tell what their exact shared aims and objectives are but this degree of concentration and activity in such a specific area seems beyond the possibility of coincidence.
The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was a small extremist faction. Living Marxism, the RCP's monthly review which went on to become LM magazine, had only a small number of contributors, but RCP supporters/LM contributors not only turn up at Spiked/IOI, but hold the following positions:
SMC director: Fiona Fox
Fiona Fox has no science background. Tracey Brown's background is likewise almost entirely unconnected to her current post - her previous specialty was sociology of law. Ellen Raphael also has a social science background. I think it is a legitimate question to ask what drew them all to the same highly specific area of activity.
While a number of people may have contributed on occasion to an IOI event or Spiked debate, all of these three have multiple involvements. For example, Fiona Fox appears on Spiked's website and is quoted in Spiked articles. She also appears at IOI events. Tracey Brown appears on the Spiked website and appears at IOI events. Ellen Raphael also appears on Spiked and is credited with helping at IOI events.
More importantly, all three contributed to LM, which was the forerunner to Spiked/IOI. LM's co-publisher, Claire Fox, launched the IOI on the day that LM folded; shortly afterwards, LM's ex-editor launched Spiked with LM's other co-publisher, Helene Guldberg, as managing editor.
This has been written about by a number of commentators including myself and George Monbiot in the Guardian. For example, in Monbiot's Guardian article, Invasion of the Entryists - he wrote about Sense About Science:
"The phone number for Sense About Science is shared by the "publishing house" Global Futures. One of its two trustees is Phil Mullan, a former RCP activist and LM contributor who is listed as the registrant of Spiked magazine's website. The only publication on the Global Futures site is a paper by Frank Furedi, the godfather of the cult. The assistant director of Sense About Science, Ellen Raphael, is the contact person for Global Futures. The director of SAS, Tracey Brown, has written for both LM and Spiked and has published a book with the Institute of Ideas: all of them RCP spin-offs. Both Brown and Raphael studied under Frank Furedi at the University of Kent, before working for the PR firm Regester Larkin, which defends companies such as the biotech giants Aventis CropScience, Bayer and Pfizer against consumer and environmental campaigners. Brown's address is shared by Adam Burgess, also a contributor to LM. LM's health writer, Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, is a trustee of both Global Futures and Sense About Science".
And Science Media Centre:
"SAS has set up a working party on peer review, which is chaired and hosted by the Royal Society. One of its members is Tony Gilland, who is science and society director at the Institute of Ideas, a contributor to both LM and Spiked and the joint author of the proposal Frank Furedi made to the supermarkets. Another is Fiona Fox, the sister of Claire Fox, who runs the Institute of Ideas. Fiona Fox was a frequent contributor to LM. One of her articles generated outrage among human rights campaigners by denying that there had been a genocide in Rwanda.
"Fiona Fox is also the director of the Science Media Centre, the public relations body set up by Baroness Susan Greenfield of the Royal Institution."
Other Monbiot articles have appeared on the LM network. I have written about the group in the Guardian and PR Watch.
* More on Fiona Fox [the SMC's director]
In George Monbiot's article he credits much of the work exposing the LM network to the researcher, Jonathan Matthews. His profile of Fiona Fox is accessible at: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=45
In that profile, you will see she wrote a hugely controversial article playing down the genocide in Rwanda under her "pseudonym" Fiona Foster. The Guardian called this article a "bid to rewrite history in favour of the murderers". The Guardian also noted that the article was written by Fiona Fox under the Foster alias. A piece in the Guardian Diary later quoted Fox as admitting involvement in the article.
This article is far from an isolated example of Fiona's writing for the RCP. Indeed, during a time in the 1990s she was one of LM's most frequent contributors. It is also worth noting that although her public role in the group's activities was less than her sister's [Claire Fox], her known contributions to the group's political activities were far more controversial.
For example, a document from 1997, under the headline "Contribution to OTAM" (which stands for On Tactics and Methods - a discussion process within the RCP on its future), contains some interesting views. "Fiona Foster" writes about a friend, Carol, who was suffering from ME and is on anti-depressants.
She wrote: "There are plenty more like Carol ... I often think 'there but for the grace of the RCP go I'. This secret thought is even present when I meet up with those mates who have dropped out of RCP politics. Slowly but surely they have lost their framework for understanding the world... I do feel that being one of the few people in the world who can really understand imposes a certain burden and a definite isolation. But I also feel it is a great privilidge [sic] and quite frankly, if it is [sic] choice between carrying the burden of RCP politics or ending up like my old friend Carol there's no choice involved!"
* Irish Freedom Movement - Peace process in Ireland an "act of war"
Fox was also active in the Irish Freedom Movement (IFM - another RCP front) which was totally opposed to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland. In the OTAM document, Foster wrote about Ireland: "To the IFM remembering exactly what you were doing when the IRA ceasefire was announced has taken on Kennedy-type proportions. Knowing for too long that the republican movement was going to compromise with imperialism didn't seem to comfort in those first few weeks ... Within weeks those of us who had really understood IFM politics were back on our feet, fighting against those who said that the ceasefire was a step forward, arguing that the peace process was an act of war, a victory for the British".
* She also said that Oxfam are a threat to world peace
She also wrote that: "I stood on the streets of Covent Garden every Saturday for a year...I had some cracking arguments and I really believe that I sent some people away with something to think about, but in the end I just couldn't get people to accept that Western humanitarianism and Oxfam are a bigger threat to world peace than Iraq and the serbs".
At the time that she wrote that about Oxfam she was working for [the Roman Catholic aid agency] CAFOD. I can send you a copy of this document if you want, but it will have to be in hard copy.
These views are similar to others expressed by "Foster" in LM. In one, she interviewed Tommy McKearney, an Irish Republican jailed for the killing of a British soldier. A year later LM published a highly sympathetic profile of McKearney by "Foster". It should also be noted that the RCP and the IFM never condemned any IRA atrocity even where it involved civilians.
I know that everyone has political views, and people's views change over time. I am not interested in some McCarthyite witch-hunt. The reason for quoting these examples is simply to raise the question as to why individuals known to have been involved in a small extreme political group have clustered in this science and society area. I do not pretend to know the answer.
In response to Monbiot's piece in the Guardian, Furedi has argued that it is wrong to think there is some kind of "revolutionary cell" out there. Maybe it is. The article in which Furedi is quoted is the Times Higher. It continued:
"So why, asks Laurie Taylor, Times Higher columnist and visiting professor of politics and sociology at Birkbeck College, London, do all these former Trotskyists agree in detail on what appears to be in essence a right-wing platform and how can they call themselves academics if they appear to deny independent thought? You might have expected them to travel in a variety of directions after the collapse of their revolutionary dream in the Nineties, but many peddle similar lines".
Richard D. North, with whom I publicly disagree on many issues, has argued that "London's scientific and cultural Establishments... were so glad of the energy and intelligence of these new arrivals - and their capacity to field numbers of highly-motivated young people - that they overlooked the possibility that the group had an agenda which was unpalatable."
* From Bosnia to biotech
This same kind of repositioning has occurred elsewhere in their network. The RCP established a parallel group in Germany which produced a sister publication to LM, called Novo. When the RCP were opposing intervention in Bosnia and denying Serb atrocities, Novo's editor, Thomas Deichmann, "reinvented himself as a fully-fledged Bosnia expert", in the words of the Guardian. Deichmann gave evidence for the defence in the trial of a Serbian war criminal at The Hague and also wrote a lead article for LM attacking ITN's journalists over their Bosnia coverage. It was this article that led to LM's demise in the ensuing libel action.
Post-LM, Novo is still going strong and now works in tandem with Spiked and IOI - see, for instance, the Battle of Ideas event that is happening next week-end. But as issues like Serbia, Rwanda and Ireland have faded into the political background, Deichmann has reinvented himself. He has become an expert on biotechnology. To that end, he has co-authored a book on biotechnology, Das PopulSre Lexikon der Gentechnik, and has contributed articles to Novo and Spiked. He also contributed to the IOI's Genes and Society Festival.
You raise the question of bias in your email to me. As you know, I quite deliberately did not label the SMC or SAS as climate sceptic organisations. This said, people have asked me why such a pro-science organisation as the SMC has done so little on climate, given that it is emerging as quite possibly the most important scientific issue of our time. Climate change is also one where there is massive anti-science lobbying, much of which is ending up in publications like the Mail, the Telegraph and the Spectator. Yet, if my memory serves me correctly, of the 120 odd press releases the SMC has issued - and which are on its website - only about four have been on climate. This compares to over 40 on issues to do with genetics and roughly another dozen each on animals in research and GM crops.
I also think there is evidence that the SMC is failing in the mission it has set itself. In its consultation report it says: "the Centre will be free of any particular agenda within science and will always strive to promote a broad spectrum of scientific opinion - especially where there are clear divisions within science". As well as "the SMC will provide access to the wide spectrum of scientific opinion on any one issue. We can provide an anti-GM scientist and a pro-GM scientist... etc, etc".
But on the exact issue it quotes, GM, it is difficult to see much evidence of the SMC promoting or providing such a spectrum. The views of scientists critical of GM are all but absent, whereas pro-GM scientists are routinely quoted. The SMC also includes quotes from the Chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) - a corporate lobby group for the biotech industry. Its chairman is clearly neither an eminent nor an independent scientist.
The independence of others whose views the SMC has promoted is also open to question. Some of the pro-GM scientists quoted could be regarded as campaigners or lobbyists on the issue, eg Anthony Trewavas and Vivian Moses, who are both on the Scientific Advisory Forum of the Scientific Alliance. Vivian Moses is also the Chairman of Cropgen an organization funded by industry and which has a "mission to make the case for GM crops and foods." Moses is quoted more than once in SMC media briefings. In once case he is identified as the Chairman of Cropgen, but in another purely as "Visiting Professor of Biology at University College London" without any mention of the fact that he is the head of a pro-GM lobby group.
The SMC's consultation document also states: "The following is a list of the kind of events the Centre has been approached to host - all of which the staff are happy to accommodate ... the press launch of ABC - the new public information campaign on GM foods set up by the European biotechnology companies". I think most people would assume that any organization that hosts the launch of a corporate front organisation for the biotech industry is also pro-GM.
The SMC has used a media briefing to attack a report by GeneWatch UK, an organization that has raised legitimate concerns over GM and cloning and whose director, Dr Sue Mayer sat on the government appointed Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission. Included in the SMC's "responses from the scientific community" are quotes from representatives of several pressure groups as well as the CEO of a private company - Ardana Bioscience Ltd.
This is not a one off. For instance, in a press release on therapeutic cloning licences some of the quotes are either from pro-biogenetics campaign groups or industry, including the BioIndustry Association. Two of the people quoted: John Gillot of the Genetic Interest Group and Juliet Tizzard, then of the Progress Educational Trust, are also part of the same RCP/LM network as Fox (see above) but this is not disclosed.
* Susan Greenfield
Finally, there is also public confusion as to the exact relationship between Baroness Susan Greenfield and the role of the Royal Institution (RI) in the running of the SMC. The Baroness has described herself as the midwife of the SMC, and while the SMC is a supposedly independent entity, it is housed within the RI.
Certainly, Baroness Greenfield and the RI have allowed themselves to be associated with climate sceptic organisations and other pro-industry campaigns. For example, the RI and Greenfield have held events with the climate-sceptical Scientific Alliance, chaired by the Baroness. They also co-hosted an event with [the Exxon funded] TechCentralStation, that was co-sponsored by the [Exxon funded] International Policy Network and the Social Issues Research Centre, as I have already mentioned.
Professor Greenfield is also a long-time advisor to the Social Issues Research Centre, and they describe her as also "centrally involved with us in the development of a Code of Practice for science and health reporting". An article in the British Medical Journal has raised serious questions about what exactly SIRC and its sister organisation MCM stand for:
"On closer inspection it transpires that this research organisation shares the same offices, directors, and leading personnel as a commercial market research company called MCM Research. Both organisations are based at 28 St Clements, Oxford, and both have social anthropologist Kate Fox and psychologist Dr Peter Marsh as directors, and Joe McCann as a research and training manager.
The scenario becomes even more interesting when one reads the list of MCM's clients. These include Bass Taverns, the Brewers and Licensed Retail Association, the Cider Industry Council, the Civil Aviation Authority, Conoco, Coral Racing, Grand Metropolitan Retail, the Portman Group (jointly funded by Bass, Courage, Guinness, etc), Pubmaster, Rank Leisure, and Whitbread Inns, as well as several Australian brewing concerns and several independent television companies.
The Social Issues Research Centre (whose website is at www.sirc.org) fosters the image of an ultraconcerned, public spirited group ...MCM Research, in contrast, has a commercial approach. It describes itself as an Oxford based company that specialises in applying social science to real world issues and problems. Its website ... asks: 'Do your PR initiatives sometimes look too much like PR initiatives? MCM conducts social/psychological research on the positive aspects of your business. The results do not read like PR literature, or like market research data. Our reports are credible, interesting and entertaining in their own right. This is why they capture the imagination of the media and your customers.'"
The BMJ article asked "how seriously should journalists take an attack from an organisation that is so closely linked to the drinks industry?"
In another BMJ article, SIRC comes in for further criticism in an article on HRT. The article says: "HRT Aware [a pharmaceutical industry funded PR body] also commissioned the Social Issues Research Centre to produce a Jubilee Report (named to coincide with the Queen's Jubilee celebrations), which last month won a Communique award from the magazine Pharmaceutical Marketing in the public relations and medical education category".
26 C. Bunting (2005) "What's A Nice Trot Doing In A Place Like This?", The Times Higher Education Supplement, 28 January, No.1676; Pg.18