Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Geoffrey H Sherrington (SAGE 12)

  This is a general submission from an Australian scientist (chemist) with long experience in the philosophy of science.

  There are four guidelines which might prove to be useful to the Committee when evaluating the submissions of others. The Terms of Reference are not addressed in sequence herein because they are specific to Great Britain and its citizens.

    1. Cast a critical eye over submissions built around the so-called "Precautionary Principle". In many cases, those invoking this method (which has not achieved the status of a Principle) have not finished their research and are seeking more time. It is rare to find a historical case of successful use of this method. Many of the claims of success are routine, like medical prophylaxis. Particularly, there are few examples where this method has—or would have—overcome response time issues in emergencies.

    2. Beware of submissions that seek continuation of research funding, or seek large new grants. The idea is to deliver the goods, not to maintain employment.

    3. Do not downplay submissions made by non-University or non-Government research organisations. Industry is often ahead of the pace, as evidenced by readiness of some to brand its work as "tainted" or "self-serving".

    4. Do not try to pick winners too quickly—avoid choosing if you can. Consider the relevance of the Nobel Prize awards to Australians Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren for their work on the cause and cure of ulcers.

  Please pardon the direct wording of this submission. The last decade has seen a rise in scientific obfuscation, to the detriment of all.

Geoffrey H Sherrington

July 2010

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