Lord Dick Taverne is the Chairman of the pro-GM lobby group, the Association of Sense about Science, and the author of The March of Unreason (March 2005). Although he has no background in science, his long career has taken in politics, the law, business, lobbying, quite apart from supporting biotechnology. His other roles have included:
Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords
Non-Executive Deputy Chairman of Industrial Finance Group.
Chairman of AXA Equity & Law Life Assurance PLC.
Former Director of BOC Group plc.
- Former Chairman of the Institute of Fiscal Studies
- Founding Director of PRIMA Europe, rising to Chairman in 199l and President in 1993 until 1998
Sense about Science is one of the Royal Society's closest allies. Sense about Science was set up in the middle of 2002 ahead of the UK's public debate on GM crop commercialisation. It promotes its point of view to peers, MPs and the media and is funded by a wide array of funders including corporations, institutes and individuals with interests in biotech.
When Taverne's book The March of Unreason was published in 2005, his proclaimed defence of science and the values of the Enlightenement attracted some highly critical reviews. James Wilsdon, head of science and innovation at the think-tank Demos, commented in a review in the Financial Times:
'Near the start of the book [Taverne] decries those who "use evidence selectively and unscrupulously to bolster prejudice, and who go through the motions of inquiry only to demonstrate some foregone conclusion". A more apt description of Taverne's own method it would be hard to find.'
'...In attacking one form of fundamentalism, Taverne supplants it with his own: a naive and outdated scientism. His is a world in which science can do no wrong; in which research is untainted by vested interests, and companies such as Monsanto exist purely to feed the hungry. Those seeking a more thoughtful encounter with the contemporary dilemmas and opportunities of science are advised to march elsewhere.'
Margaret Cook, writing of the book in The Guardian, accused Taverne of 'hectoring dogma', of 'rant rather than reason', of displaying 'a little knowledge and a lot of bombast', of confusingly mingling 'myth with fact', and perpetrating 'a number of howlers'. Cook wrote, 'At every turn, Taverne betrays himself as an authoritarian, declaiming with patronising contempt to his audience while observing naïve uncritical deference to the establishment. His method of discussion involves reductio ad absurdam of any argument he does not like or understand. It is uncomfortably reminiscent of party political arguments, whose object is to prevail, not to establish the truth.' (In search of reason )
There were some, however, who found the book persuasive. According to Henry I Miller of the Hoover Institution, 'Lord Taverne argues compellingly that the conflict over gene-spliced crops is the most important battle of all between the forces of reason and unreason, both because of the consequences should the forces of darkness prevail, and also because their arguments are so perverse and so consistently and completely wrong... As Lord Taverne observes, the objections to gene-spliced foods are purely ideological, bordering on religiosity.' (Halting the march of unreason, including organic foods)
Taverne's political career brought him into close contact with Lord Sainsbury. In the late 1980s Taverne, originally a Labour MP, served with Roger Liddle and David (later Lord) Sainsbury on the Steering Committee of the Social Democrat Party, which David Sainsbury bankrolled. Sainsbury also bankrolled the Institute of Fiscal Studies, after being approached by Taverne. Taverne became the first Chairman of the IFS.
Taverne and the director of Sense about Science, Tracey Brown, co-authored the article, 'Over-precautionary tales: The precautionary principle represents the cowardice of a pampered society' (Prospect, September 2002). Brown used to work for PR firm Regester Larkin, whose client list includes Aventis CropScience, Bayer and Pfizer. She is part of the Living Marxism network as is Ellen Raphael - Brown's lieutenant at Sense about Science.
Taverne also has a background in PR consultancy. In the late 1980s Dick Taverne and Roger Liddle founded the consultancy firm Prima Europe. In 1990 Prima published The case for Biotechnology, a paper authored by Taverne. Liddle and Taverne were joined on Prima's board in 1996 by Derek Draper. Prima's clients included Unilever, RTZ, BNFL, and Glaxo Wellcome.
In April 1998 Lord Taverne resigned from Prima, as a result of lobby-firm rules prohibiting employment of sitting MPs and peers, after its merger with GPC Market Access. GPC's clients included Pfizer, Novartis and SmithKline Beecham. Three months after Taverne's departure his former Prima co-directors Derek Draper and Roger Liddle