John Gillott has a degree in applied mathematics. He works at the Genetic Interest Group (GIG), London, and is also on the staff of the online clinical genetics resource Genepool along with Juliet Tizzard of Progress Educational Trust .
Gillott is GIG's Policy Officer. In 1997 GIG became embroiled in controversy over the lobbying activities of Gillott's colleague, GIG's Director, for the EU Directive on the Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions, popularly known as 'Patents on Life'. What was controversial about Alistair Kent's lobbying for the Directive was that it was at total odds with GIG's declared policy of opposing attempts to patent genes.
This radical policy departure is interesting when viewed in the context of the attitude of GIG's Policy Officer towards those that GIG should have been allied with in opposition to the Directive. 'The Directive has been vigorously opposed by environmental campaigners who say it is an aspect of the "race to commodify life" which amounts to "biopiracy"', Gillott wrote at the time in an article in LM magazine (formerly known as Living Marxism). Gillott dismissed such views out of hand. They were 'the rubbish peddled by the environmentalists' .
Gillott was at the time LM's science editor. Since the demise of the magazine in 2000, he has been a regular contributor to the Spiked website edited by LM's ex-editor, Mick Hume. Both Gillott and his GIG colleague Alistair Kent have also spoken at events run by the Institute of Ideas, an organisation headed by LM's former co-publisher.
Environmentalists are consistently a key target in Gillott's writing. In one of his Spiked-science articles, for instance, Gillott claims that the apparent scientific consensus on global warming is 'rigged through a media compliant to Environmentalists' extremism'. (May 22 2001)
Two years earlier Gillott appeared,like Juliet Tizzard, in the Channel Four TV series, Against Nature, directed by Martin Durkin. The series painted environmentalists as doom-mongering Nazis responsible for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World.
Gillott's preoccupation with opposing and attacking the environmental movement is also a marked feature of a book he co-authored with Manjit Kumar, who was once a prominent member of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) - the organisation which founded Living Marxism. In Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997) - first published in Britain by Merlin Press (1995) - Gillott and Kumar argue that progress requires the unfettered growth of science. This it sees as threatened by the irrationality of the environmental movement.
Despite being published by the Monthly Review Press, Gillott and Kumar's book attracted a review in their journal Monthly Review that contained some unusually scathing criticisms. In his review John Bellamy Foster argues that although the book advances a ' strong and in many ways brilliant defence of science and reason', in the end it 'turns, in my view, into the opposite.' The book, according to Bellamy Foster, takes on 'all the assumptions' of 'the current "brownlash" against environmentalism', ie the attempt to minimize the seriousness of environmental problems in order to fuel a backlash against environmentalism and 'green' policies .
Bellamy Foster is also highly critical of the authors' thesis, advanced particularly in the book's penultimate chapter, that environmentalists are 'the main contemporary enemies of science and reason'. He also notes the authors' 'naïve willingness to accept all technology without question' - something which 'is evident throughout Science and the Retreat from Reason.'
The authors, he says, 'write as if the left is simply being irrational in being skeptical about the wisdom of obtaining "cheap electricity from atomic power" or the application of "genetic engineering" (p. 173) --as if these technologies did not raise quite horrific possibilities.' Gillott, by contrast, is no skeptic but a true believer, writing of 'an imperative to crack on with genetic engineering: it will help improve the human condition. Diseases will be cured, new drugs will be developed, and, in the distant future, we might want to make more fundamental changes to our genetic constitution.' (Progress: Designer Genes, Living Marxism, Issue 66, April 1994)
Bellamy Foster continues, 'Not ones to stop half-way in their criticisms, Gillott and Kumar go on to contend that all of those who believe that there are ecological limits to economic growth (even ecological limits to capital accumulation) have succumbed to "a mass psychosis about limits in nature" (p. 166). Such views, we are told, are anti-science and anti-reason. Yet the fact remains that they are held by many, probably most, scientists, and hence cannot simply be presented--as Gillott and Kumar are wont to do--as attacks on science from without...'
Bellamy Foster continues, 'Ultimately, it is not just environmentalists who come under attack in Gillott and Kumar's book but all of those, among scientists and philosophers, who have raised questions about the role o