One of the most depressing aspects of the EU referendum campaign is the propensity for otherwise intelligent people to align themselves with misleading propaganda. I understand why this happens. Condescending as it may sound, I know that most people do not think very much about the EU nor do they know very much about EU institutions, the way in which decisions are taken at EU level, or Britain’s relationship with those institutions.
Most of the people who parrot pro-EU propaganda do so as a form of status signalling. High-status people in our society—the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, MPs, legacy media journalists—support Britain’s continued EU membership. Associating yourself with such people is a sign that you aspire to high-status too.
This is an interesting dynamic because as much as people will declare that they do not respect politicians nor trust journalists, large numbers of people are still inclined to take their lead from those whom they implicitly (sometimes explicitly) regard as their social betters.
In a society in which evidence, reason, and ability determined social status, this would not be such a bad thing. But, letting other people do your thinking for you is always risky. If you are somebody else’s tool, you’re going to get used.
What called this to mind was seeing this tweet retweeted by somebody (of my acquaintance) who should be rightly supporting the liberal case for leave, but who will most likely vote to remain because of the “friendly” persona of the “in crowd”, and the inability of legacy “leavers” to offer a desirable alternative.
The information put forward by Scientists for EU, which relies upon scientists’ reputation for being rational, objective and pursuant of evidence-based conclusions, should really discredit the notion that the Remains are interested in promoting a nice, friendly or collegiate message. I am sad to say that the most high-profile science journal in the UK, Nature, has also damaged its reputation.
The bloggers of The Leave Alliance have long challenged the wisdom of this questionable association. The first in depth analysis of this particular issue appeared on the UK Independence blog in November 2015. This was complemented by a Leave HQ piece in which it was noted that the curious Dr Mike Galsworthy was arguing that Britain should accept political subordination to EU institutions in policy areas as important and far-ranging as trade, fisheries, agriculture, energy and the environment in return for continued access to EU science funding on the same terms as today.
EU science funding accounts for less than three percent of Britain’s higher education spending, and non-EU countries such as Norway and Israel participate in EU science programmes.
Perhaps, noting the force of the critique, the Scientists for EU Twitter account said at the time that it would draft a response to the Leave HQ post. This has not been forthcoming.
The Leave Alliance bloggers, however, have not let the matter rest. The UK Independence blog recently returned to the subject, and the EU and Europe blog has added its voice to the growing chorus. Although, in the broader scheme of things, UK and EU science collaboration is a small issue, the arguments that Scientists for EU make are indicative of the dishonesty inherent in the Remain campaign.
This latest Scientists for EU tweet—also circling around Twitter under the guise of a “promoted” tweet—should shame Nature magazine and the Remain campaign. Since when has Nature been a political campaigning organisation? Is it registered with the Electoral Commission?
The finding that 83 percent of “nearly 2,000 researchers” surveyed support the Remain campaign is a matter of politics, not a scientific conclusion. People employed as scientists are free and welcome to campaign as individuals, as are builders, nurses, teachers, doctors, dustmen, factory workers and others, but the claim that Britain’s EU membership is a “matter of science” is a lie.
The fact that, as Nature reports, “Most of the polled researchers also think that a British exit, or ‘Brexit’, would harm science in the nation and in the EU at large”, is about as clear an illustration of Richard Feynman’s observation that “men [and women] who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another” as one could ever hope to find.
Apply a little logic to the proposition that in the event of Britain’s EU exit the rest of the EU would make collaboration with one of Europe’s global research centres—home to Oxford, Cambridge and the Royal Society—more difficult and the Remain case crumbles into dust. Any such move would harm the rest of the EU more than it would harm Britain. Alternative arrangements would be agreed and, given that non-EU states already participate in EU administrated research programmes, it need not even be a difficult negotiation. It doesn’t take Albert Einstein to figure that one out.
Science is supposed to be about the pursuit of truth. Politics is always about power. It is a corruption of science for these organisations to associate themselves so closely with a political cause.