Saturday, February 20, 2010

The money trail

Today we have 'borrowed' a posting from our co-editor who tells the tale of his own bitter experience in attempting to fly in the face of 'science'.

There was a time when scientists chased information, de-constructed that information and formed considered opinions. Now it seems the conclusion is what drives 'research'.

Dr. North points out:
Anyone who has the remotest idea of how academia works will know instantly how corrosive this sort of money really is. Department heads, anxious for funding to keep their empires going, would tailor their research proposals to ensure that they conformed with the programme objective. Without being told, they would know that to submit a counter-hypothesis [] would be to invite instant oblivion. The chances of getting funding would be nil.
Dr. North then relates his own first hand encounter with the Ministries who steer our industry.
I actually saw this at first hand after the 1988 Salmonella-in-eggs scare. With food poisoning in the headlines, the issue suddenly became fashionable in the halls of academia and the Research Councils, MAFF (as it was then) and the Department of Health were suddenly throwing huge amounts of money at the perceived problem.

It was at that time that I decided to do my own PhD, offering a counter-hypothesis that the "egg scare" was an artifact, arising from poor investigational technique, institutional bias and many other factors, including scientific fraud – yes ... we've been there before.
Naturally, Dr. North was unable to get funding, his presence on campus "could prejudice the ability to tap into the well of funds aimed at supporting the prevailing hypothesis." So much for 'investigative science'. But one brave pioneer did take him on. The consequences of which were that:
"He was summonsed down to London and grilled by MAFF officials. Only under the most stringent of conditions was his funding stream allowed to continue, which included my (Dr. North) being excluded from all the government-funded activities in the department.
Having seen the complete bias under which the RBCT worked, the scorn and derision poured on previous work, scientific and veterinary experience by a self seeking bubble of individuals, all circling around each other, we see a depressing parallel. As Dr. North says, of this 'political science':
Basically, it is bought and paid for – it will follow the money. [] ... "scientists" will dutifully fill in their grant applications, proposing to do precisely that. Those who do not conform fall by the wayside – they simply do not get funded.

Then, of course, the overwhelming weight of funded papers is taken as proving the point, and evidence of the "consensus". But it is money, not science, that is talking.
The basis of the RBCT was graphically explained by its leader, ISG chairman Professor John Bourne, who said quite openly to the EFRA committee:
"We repeatedly say "culling, as conducted in the trial." It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians."

"At the end of the day I think you have to accept that it is the price society puts on a badger. [ ] In this country there is a price on a badger and on badger welfare".

"Whatever has driven that I do not know but the fact is that a price has been put on the badger in this country which related to the way we were able to carry out our scientific work. That is exactly what we report".
And as we saw last week, this particular politically driven gravy train shows no sign of stopping.


Anonymous said...

The price that some farmers put on wildlife?


Anonymous said...

"Department heads, anxious for funding to keep their empires going, would tailor their research proposals to ensure that they conformed with the programme objective."

Farmers, anxious for funding to keep their lifestyle going, would tailor their proposals for a handout of public money to ensure that they conformed with the programme objective.

Or not get the subsidy

Matthew said...

Anons; 5.40

Zero price? On what? Healthy badgers as part of a vibrant ecology which includes many co-habiting species? They are priceless.

But TB infected badgers, spilling their disease into cattle, causing misery and distress not only to cattle farmers (who you assume to be bereft of all feelings for their animals) but now onwards to camelids, cats, dogs and other companion mammals - why would they be 'valued' at all?

Anon 5.43. Lifestyle? I wish. Try running a livestock farm with no stock sales. Easy it is not. We have yet to meet a single farmer who would choose to live with TB in his herd. The demoralising grind of 60 day back to back tests and wasteful, unecessary slaughter are not to be recommended.

If by 'subsidy', you mean the European environmental payment for keeping the countryside 'tidy' and fit for food production, then say so. It is not a lifestyle or food subsidy and shouldn't be seen as such.

Anonymous said...

If your 'lifestyle' is a 'demoralising grind', then why not change it - get a job instead and find out what it's like for most working folk.

Jo said...

Anonymous 9.28 AM

Judging by your comment it probably isn't worth asking you if you know where your food comes from. Where do you think the supermarkets get their food from? Who do you think grows it?
Yes it does need to be grown, it doesn't just appear in its plastic packets. If all farmers left the land and went to stack shelves in supermarkets, there wouldn't be any food to stack.

Jim said...

The dispiriting thing is the inane comments by those such as the Anons above. This is a serious site which exists to disseminate accurate information about a serious problem. Reasoned debate is fine, but comments which fail to recognise the reality of the disaster which bovine TB is betray the shallowness and ignorance of those who make them.

Matthew said...

Anon 9.28.

Read more carefully. We said continuous 60 day back to back TB tests and cattle slaughter is a 'demoralising grind'. Not livestock faming in general, which we love.
'Get a job to find out what it's like for most working folk'. Mmmm. 9 - 5 and no Saturdays? Sounds good to me.
I would not presume to criticise your life style choice, but livestock farming has no set hours. It is quite normal to be up all night calving cows and still put in a full day - which can be 12 hours on a dairy farm - on the following day.
That is not the problem. The stress of an uncertain cash flow, and uncertain outcome to what should be routine veterinary procedure with all its implications - most certainly is.

Matthew said...

Just reading through some of today's comments again, we would echo our co-editors thoughts.
"It's not so much that badger activists love badgers", he says. "They hate farmers".
How very sad.

Anonymous said...

Matthew said: " Mmmm. 9 - 5 and no Saturdays? Sounds good to me. "

Ok then - go for it!

Please don't worry that we'll all starve without you - as some of your colleagues suggest.

Matthew said...

Anon 2.53.
"Ok then - go for it!"

Wish I could. Love my cattle, and their environment too much. I also appreciate wildlife. Why should anyone presume otherwise?

We have beautiful jay who raids the bird table, and whooopee - I have a hedgehog ! He was bumbling around the straw yard last summer, so was 'rescued' in a bucket and delivered to my veg. patch. He was like an spiky 'exocet' when I threw him a slug. First one (h.hog)I've seen in 25 years...

Not suggesting you'd starve. Food comes from Tesco. We all know that... The cost may be greater though.

SW Matt.