Science is under attack.
From the religious fanatics who believe that an all powerful supreme being created the world about 6,000 years ago at 4.30pm on a Wednesday and who try and insist that creationism should be taught in schools, down to the farmers who ignore all the evidence and continue to blame badgers for the bTB outbreaks, science is under attack.
A correspondence in a local paper recently claimed that the decline in the numbers of ground nesting birds, is down to hordes of diseased, marauding badgers, devastating the countryside. And badgers have been blamed for the reduction in hedgehogs and even bees.
What ever the local newspaper correspondence is on should carry a public health warning, or perhaps he has suffered from a lifetime spent to close to the organophosphates that are still used so extensively in the farming industry. Who knows. Certainly he has not read or understood anything science based to arrive at the drivel that he wrote.
Part of the problem is politics.
Take the Badger cull. It is happening not because there is sound scientific case based on empirical evidence demonstrating that it is an effective way of eliminating bTB. It is happening because of politics.
It was a political deal between the Conservatives and the NFU (National Farmers Union). Cameron is alleged to have promised the badger cull and the repeal of the Hunting Act, if ‘they’ could deliver the shire seats to the Conservatives in the 2010 General Election.
Even the BBC is not impartial. Its Countryfile programme has been notorious over the past few years for ignoring the science and promoting the view that the farmer knows best. It presents a chocolate box image of farming and the countryside that anyone who has spent anytime in it knows to be at best a rose-tinted view, and at worse a gross exaggeration.
They interview a scientist discussing the merits of vaccination and then cut to a farmer saying something like ‘ well these clever chaps with their clip boards don’t understand the land like we do’ in other words listen to our folk tales not the science.
Or the Princess Anne interview where the fawning, forelock tugging interviewer let her get away with outrageous claims about gassing badgers being both necessary and a humane method of culling.
Just because you work on the land, or you happen to be a princess does not mean that your subjective observations on the countryside should carry more weight than science based evidence. They are really nothing more than second hand tales, stories, best left to the man in the pub.
Science often gets short shrift when it comes to framing policy and its implementation, in particular when it comes to environmental issues. The drive for economic growth or self-interest will often trump any environmental considerations and indeed has been written into legislation. (The UK Infrastructure Act) A development project that needs to destroy ancient woodlands will offer instead to plant the same number or more trees at another site. This of course fails to understand the complex ecology of woodlands. Centuries, perhaps a thousand years of evolution in an ancient woodland cannot be replaced by planting a few trees. The ecosystem of a wood is for more complex and inter-related than that. The failure to understand how ecosystems work, and the relationship bewtween animals and plants, in particular predators, is the prime reason for the decline in so many of our species.
The RSPB fell into the political trap over the Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan. There were parts of it they did not agree with and argued for several years against, relocation being one of them, but after a lot of pressure they opted for the political route not the scientific one and reluctantly signed up to it.
A year on and nothing has changed. Hen Harriers continue to disappear, and fail to breed on the English uplands. Raptors are being trapped, poisoned and shot, and the law continues to be broken. It might well be by a few rotten apples in the barrel, but if those that support shooting cannot control them, then its time to get rid of the barrel.
The Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan was to recovery plans as Genghis Khan was to human rights. In other words it was nothing of the sort, it was not about recovering hen harrier numbers but about maintaining the status quo. It was always a trap to lure the RSPB into, to force them to play the political game and turn attention away from the science. To make them compromise so that the other side could continue to delay, obfuscate and hope in the end to wear them down.
So now the RSPB have withdrawn their support.
And here is the rub. It is the RSPB who are being accused of breaking the agreement by walking away from it. The other groups wring their hands and point the finger of blame. Not at those who break the law. No. Its the RSPB who are to blame, not the criminals that continue to persecute, poison, trap and shoot birds of prey, but the RSPB for walking away from a flawed, unenforceable agreement, that was nothing more than a trap anyway.
We live in a world of spin, a world where ‘perception is reality’. Politics and the expensively funded lobby groups and their influence matters more than science. Nature and the envirnoment continue to suffer all for short term economic and political gain.