'Safety Quacks' - Taverne quacks Furedi's tune in Prospect (28/3/2004)

1.Taverne quacks Furedi's tune (GM WATCH)
2.'Safety Quacks' (Prospect)

1.'Safety Quacks' - Taverne quacks Furedi's tune

The following article - 'Safety Quacks' - by Lord Dick Taverne, Chairman of the pro-GM lobby group Sense About Science, is not the first he has penned for the political magazine Prospect. His last was, 'Over-precautionary tales: The precautionary principle represents the cowardice of a pampered society' (Prospect, September 2002). This was co-authored with Sense about Science's director, Tracey Brown. http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=143

Brown used to work for PR consultancy Regester Larkin, whose client list includes Aventis CropScience, Bayer and Pfizer. Taverne also has a background in corporate consultancy. In the late 1980s 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, British Nuclear Fuels (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 Prima's 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 were at the centre of the so-called 'lobbygate' scandal, involving allegations of 'cash for access' to Blair Ministers. Taverne himself is a long-time associate of Blair's Science Minister, the former food-industry maganate and biotech investor, Lord David Sainsbury. http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=127

Tracey Brown, Taverne's co-author, also has some interesting political associations. She is a leading member of the far-right (formerly far left!) Living Marxism - or LM - network. So too is Ellen Raphael - the only other staff member of Sense About Science. Like Brown, Ellen Raphael came to Sense About Science via Regester Larkin. The LM network is fervently pro-technology, especially genetic technologies - opposing all restrictions on their development.

Interestingly, in the piece for Prospect below, which was apparently authored on this occasion without Tracey Brown's assistance, Taverne draws repeatedly on "an important book by Adam Burgess, 'Cellular Phones, Public Fears and a Culture of Precaution'". So, who is Adam Burgess?

Burgess, like Tracey Brown, is a social scientist and like Brown and her deputy at Sense About Science, Ellen Rapahael, Burgess was previously  part of the Sociology Department of the University of Kent Canterbury. The Department is headed by Frank Furedi, the chief theoretician of the 'LM' network and both Brown, Rapahael and Bugess were contributors to LM magazine, which had Furedi as its star columnist. Brown, who has co-authored material with Furedi and was formerly his research assistant, is in fact Burgess's wife. Like other members of the LM network, Brown and Burgess stick strictly to Furedi's ideological line.

According to Furedi and the LM network, the forward march of science and technology must be protected from a risk-averse public whose irrational fears and phobias are played upon by environmentalists who seek to impose restrictions on science, technology and business. Such restrictions threaten to inhibit progress and for this reason the scaremongers must not be appeased; expertise must be defended, not only against environmental critics but against the relativism of post-modernism which can also serve to undermine science, the Enlightenment and the onward march of human progress.

This extreme and simplistic position is exactly that adopted by Taverne in the article below. Yet Furedi's ideas contrast notably with those of many other experts on science and technology and their wider social and economic implications. Dr Andy Stirling, a Senior Lecturer at SPRU, which is part of the University of Sussex and is one of the world leaders in policy research in this area, points out that it is meaningless to see science and technology as self evidently good in the way that Furedi and Taverne suggest. The merits of particular technological developments need to be assessed. Technologies, Stirling notes, do not spring from nowhere and nor are they hard-wired in nature. Technological directions are deliberate choices, and those choices are subject to power. Thus, while our possible technological futures are diverse and are open to choice, in a globalising world, there are growing pressures on those choices.

The risk debate, within which Taverne and Furedi frame such choices, is largely about who chooses technology and to what end. Stirling points out that just as scepticism is the key to good science, dissent is the key to robust and innovative technologies. Democracies need more, not less, attention to the politics of technology.The emphasis that Furedi and Taverne, by contrast, place on not subjecting 'expertise' and currently-promoted technologies to scepticism and dissent is, like their emphasis on avoiding aversion to risk, a way of narrowing our choices as to the technological path we proceed along. They seek to exclude dissent, diversity and innovation, and it is reasonable to ask whose interest that serves.

In his latest Prospect article Taverne claims he is willing to allow some public discussion of technological issues, where they raise "ethical" issues, but this, he says, "public discussion needs to be structured carefully to prevent domination by special interests". Here Taverne gives two contrasting examples - the "public discussion that took place in a largely non-adversarial atmosphere before the parliamentary votes on the use of human embryos for stem cell research was an example of effective consultation. On the other hand, the botched public debate on GM crops was not. Anti-GM lobby groups were allowed to dominate the exercise, while the public in general showed little interest."

What is interesting about this highly partisan account of the two debates is that while the public debate on GM was very poorly funded and so minimally advertised, it attracted far more public attention and involvement than the "public discussion" of human embryo cloning for research. This enabled the latter, unlike the former, to be carefully orchestrated by lobby groups like the Gentic Interest Group (GIG) and Progress Educational Trust, with connections to the pharma/biotech industries. It goes almost without saying that key figures in both GIG and PROGRESS are part of the LM network.

This suggests that in Taverne's world for public consultation to be effective it needs to be structured carefully to prevent domination by the *wrong* special interests! The Taverne/Furedi perspective on public debate contrasts markedly with that of the disability movement which

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