Saturday 7 November 2009
Richard Ingrams's Week: Politicians need all the scientific help they can get
The scientific community is still spluttering about the sacking of the Government's drugs adviser Professor David Nutt, and there is plenty of high-falutin' talk about the integrity of scientists and the value of the independent advice they offer to politicians.
Politicians, however, do not have all that good a record when it comes to choosing scientists to advise them. Knowing little or nothing about science themselves, they are liable to favour oddballs like, for example, Professor Lindemann (later Lord Cherwell), Winston Churchill's favourite scientist who became one of his closest friends and who was, according to the historian Piers Brendon, not only a racist but "a crashing snob who courted the mighty and regarded the lower orders as subhuman".
Harold Wilson relied for scientific advice on Sir Solly Zuckerman, an expert on tadpoles at London Zoo, while his Tory rival Edward Heath looked to Lord Rothschild, close friend of the Cambridge spies, who had made his scientific reputation as one of the country's leading spermatologists.
As for the Nutt controversy, it was generally overlooked that the Brown Government includes someone described as a Science Minister. He is Lord Drayson of Kensington, previously a defence minister who resigned some months ago in order to become a racing car driver, who has now returned to the Government.
As for his scientific credentials, Drayson, said to be a supporter of Professor Nutt, was a manufacturer of flu vaccines on Merseyside. But unfortunately for him, his factory was held to be substandard by American inspectors and thousands of jabs ordered by the US government had to be destroyed.
Expenses tsar is a costly business
Almost everyone of any importance in public life is nowadays either a Sir or a Professor. Quite a few are both – for example, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, head of the Government's latest quango, the so-called Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority (IPSA for short), set up by Gordon Brown in the wake of the recent revelations about MPs' expenses.
It will be Professor Sir Ian's job to ensure MPs behave themselves more scrupulously. One of the great and good, Sir Ian has been professor of law and ethics at King's College London and was once described by The Times as the country's leading expert on the law and medicine. It may not have been immediately clear quite how the professor's expertise in the field of medical ethics would assist him when it came to assessing the propriety of MPs' expenses. But that was not something that exercised our elected representatives when his appointment was announced this week by Speaker John Bercow. What caused them to jeer was the news that Professor Sir Ian, plainly a very busy man with many other commitments, was to be paid £100,000 for a three-day week as the expenses tsar.
Yet another own goal by the Government. And for the MPs a welcome surge of sympathy from the public, many of whom might conclude that, whatever the MPs' failings, they were being poorly rewarded for doing an arduous job – at least in comparison with some other public servants, however qualified they might be in medical ethics.
All this talk of global warming is frightening the children
For as long as I can remember, concerned parents have been complaining about children being given compulsory sex education at school.
They were at it again this week. But it seems a bit pointless to complain when nowadays children grow up in a world that seems to be saturated with sex. Like it or not, they cannot help seeing semi-pornographic images in shops, on posters or on TV. If they know their way about the internet, which most of them seem to do, they can quite easily see films of hardcore porn. If they watch news bulletins they will be given graphic details of all the latest sex abuse horrors which nowadays are given headline treatment by all the news media regardless of the time of day.
Forget sex education. What parents ought perhaps to be more concerned about today is the way the Government is deliberately making children worry about global warming. Films are being issued to schools showing, albeit in cartoon form, scenes of all the terrible consequences – families and their pets being swept away in rising floods, all part of a horror scenario that will over take the world quite soon unless we take the appropriate steps to stop it from happening.
The intention may be good but the only effect is to cause children to worry over something about which they can do nothing at all. For that matter there's not much that adults can do, though they might perhaps think of lobbying the Government to stop panicking their children quite unnecessarily.
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