Mr O’Neill now has a blog posting up, that starts with …
Today, I gave this speech at the sceptical QED conference in Manchester.
(Scratches head)… speech! … he was a member on a panel, and at best took 4 minutes to state his position, I was there and took this picture at the time.
In essence, his argument was one in which he appeared to be suggesting that evidence-based thinking within a political context is a really bad idea … here is an extract from his refined version of his published “speech” …
This outlook survives today, in the widespread belief that we need more expertise and less ideology in politics; more science, less passion; more cool-headed, educated people like David Nutt, and fewer nutters from the mass of the population who think they know everything but don’t actually know very much at all.
… today it is young rationalists and humanists who say politics needs more expert input and less playing to the public gallery, less populism, less ill-informed passion or wrongheaded ideology.
If anything, today’s call for more expertise in politics is worse than what went before because it is so much more sweeping; it is really serious about elevating experts into almost every sphere of policymaking and giving them a very special position.
In response to this Robin Ince (and almost everybody else in the room) thought “WTF are you babbling about?”. (Oh, and yes, that is Helen Czerski sitting next to Robin).
OK, so did Mr O’Neill have any evidence that supported this argument? Er no, not really, but then it would indeed be more than a tad ironic to find that a chap arguing against making informed choices to permit us to actually make an informed evidence-based choice on this topic.
When politics and science mix in this way, both of them suffer, I think. We end up with evidence-driven policy and policy-driven science, neither of which is a very good thing.
Ah yes indeed, all those sciency things need to be kept well out of politics, we simply cannot have people making informed choices or a meaningful dialogue. And so when faced with the suggestion that politics needs to operate from a position of complete ignorance, what can one say except “Seriously!”, or to use the words that Robin Ince deployed at the time against Mr O’Neill, “You are a fucking idiot”.
Robin not only nailed it then, but also when he blogged about it all later …
to blithely suggest that that the world is not complex, that expertise is not only not required but a form of oppression, seems to be a position that can only be taken if you are blinkered when progressing through 21st century society. Go back one hundred years and I believe that pretty much any tool or device in your house could be repaired by you with a little ingenuity and swearing. Look at what you have around you now. Look at the device you are reading this on or your television or mobile phone or digital radio, when they cease to function correctly I wonder how many of you would confidently turn to your toolbox, uncover the technology within and effectively repair it. When I picked up the journalist’s ipad, something which seemed to alarm him as if I was a Hyde-ish brute (and I almost was) and declared “mend this”, no answer came forth.
This is no dry academic debate, it really matters because sadly our human history is littered with individuals who have inflicted things upon others that are not only now recognised to be bad ideas, but were ideas based upon assumptions that were not actually true. Even today the media is awash with such myths, the obvious examples include Mr Dellingpole beating the “Climate Change is a myth” drum or the constant flow of woo being propagated by the Daily Fail, should we seriously gag the voices of those who can stand up and explain why such thinking is complete bollocks?
Sigh! … if only we did actually have a government that made decisions on the basis of the evidence. I’m not of course claiming that science has all the answers, nobody is, but rather that it can test assertions, claims and ideas … it is simply a tool, a methodology, that enables us to filter ideas and work out which are wrong and which are not wrong.
I do also wonder how much of this is real and how much is simply manufactured. I’m toying with the idea that Mr O’Neill does not actually believe a lot of what he asserts, and has instead crafted it to provoke a reaction so that he may then bask in the spotlight.