In Labour/independent/Lib Dem MP Dick Taverne’s 2006 book he presents a powerful argument in support of the scientific method, reason, and their offshoot democracy. Taverne is a long-time supporter of the importance and public remit of science, and writes with passion, insight and clarity on his subject. His ire is in particular aimed at those he (rightly) calls eco-fundamentalists, whom he exposes as brilliant media operators with a deeply irrational attitude.
I’ve long found this irrational aspect of Green attitudes troubling – and not just the absurd, crystal-wielding part of it. I’ve enjoyed being part of the alternative/underground world for a long time, but, even amongst friends, I’ve always realised that I walked on the outer fringes of the group, with my regular attacks on conspiracy theories, unreasonable arguments (eg those against GM foods), absurd “alternate history”, unethical exploitation of media, entrenched attitudes etc. The inability of many people to use evidence and follow peer-reviewed methods is a huge concern. But in these days of social media and fake news – little more than ten years after the publication of this book – we are sleepwalking into an even worse situation, where not just truth but reality itself is the casualty. Reading this book a few years after it appeared, as traditional media fawns to public opinion and science continues to be downtrodden, is not a pleasant experience, for all the work’s excellence.
We have failed once again to learn the lesson of history. But that of course is part of our current problem. Technology is changing at a pace faster than human beings can psychologically cope with.
In my view, the great majority of what Taverne presents in this book is not only correct but vitally important. I think he does give capitalism and multi-national corporations too easy a time (he still believes in enlightened self-interest), but his main message, that democracy and its benefits come from the evidence based scientific method – itself a child of the Enlightenment – needs to be heard across the world. Unfortunately, at the moment, that seems the least likely message to achieve visibility in our age of digital media, let alone enhanced credence. A highly recommended book.