EU scraps science advisor role – now are you happy, Greenpeace?

The European Commission has now confirmed officially what was last week leaked – that the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) role is not being renewed by the incoming Juncker commission. The CSA website has already been taken down, and – as the James Wilsdon writes in the Guardian – it is not clear that the outgoing CSA Professor Anne Glover (who leaves in January) will even be allowed to attend scientific meetings she herself set up.

This is a dark day for science in Europe. Instead of having scientific advice at the heart of European policymaking, the Juncker Commission clearly wants to remove any person who might bring inconvenient scientific truths to the top EU table. Sadly, this is all too consistent with European moves to back away from evidence-based policymaking – if you can’t change the science you muzzle the scientists or keep them out of the room when powerful people are taking decisions.

So how did it come to this? Who are the villains of the piece? Step forward Greenpeace, whose European unit signed a letter along with a veritable rogues gallery of anti-GMO campaign groups demanding the role be abolished in July this year. To quote:

We are aware that business lobbies urge the Commission to continue with the practice established by Mr Barroso and even to strengthen the chief adviser’s formal role in policy making. We, by contrast, appeal to you to scrap this position. The post of Chief Scientific Adviser is fundamentally problematic as it concentrates too much influence in one person, and undermines in-depth scientific research and assessments carried out by or for the Commission directorates in the course of policy elaboration.

So according to Greenpeace and its pals, only business is pro-science. NGOs are… well, you decide. The letter then reveals what has triggered this campaign against science by the green NGO community:

To the media, the current CSA presented one-sided, partial opinions in the debate on the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, repeatedly claiming that there was a scientific consensus about their safety whereas this claim is contradicted by an international statement of scientists…

In other words, Anne Glover needed to be sacked because her advice and public statements accurately represented the worldwide scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. Instead, Greenpeace et al advance a ‘no consensus’ position which is eerily reminiscent of that put forward by climate change deniers.

For the avoidance of doubt, Greenpeace UK in fact confirmed this no-consensus claim to me only a few days ago on Twitter:

So who should the Juncker Commission be taking its scientific advice from? Why, the NGOs of course – many of which are lavishly funded by that very same European Commission! (Though not Greenpeace, I should make clear.) As the letter put it, not even very coyly:

We hope that you as the incoming Commission President will decide not to nominate a chief scientific adviser and that instead the Commission will take its advice from a variety of independent, multi-disciplinary sources, with a focus on the public interest. We remain at your disposal if you wish to receive more detailed explanations of our concerns.

This is a sad turn of events not only for science in EU policymaking, but also for science in European environmentalism. Since when did environmental groups, whose campaigns on issues like climate change always contain frequent references to “the science” lobby to remove scientists from the halls of power? How can anyone take seriously Greenpeace’s claims to be science-led and evidence-based when it lashes out against scientists who challenge its ideology even at the expense of damaging the fundamental interests of the entire European scientific community? Whoever took this decision in Greenpeace should hang their head in shame today.

What is even more dispiriting is that this NGO-led campaign against science in Europe is already paying dividends. Earlier this week the European Parliament – informed no doubt by perpetual lobbying from the Brussels-based, EU-funded green groups – voted to allow nation states to implement indefinite GMO cultivation bans without the need to provide any meaningful scientific evidence, and to do so in the face of any advice they might receive from the scientists at the European Food Safety Authority. Science in policy is duly abolished at all levels, just as the NGOs demanded. Are you happy now, Greenpeace?

But look – who else is celebrating the decision to abolish the European science advisor role? The climate sceptics, who hated Anne Glover’s equally accurate advice on the serious danger of climate change just as much as the greens hated her scientifically-accurate views on GMOs. It looks like Greenpeace has found itself with some uncomfortable but rather apt new bedfellows.

Update:

There has been a strong expert reaction from scientists and the scientific community, a few responses from which are captured in this Science Media Centre list of quotes.

Update 2:

Greenpeace has responded on Twitter:

© Mark Lynas
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