Opinion
May 7, 2012

Questioning the experts

Yet another MP – Nancy Duncan – is attacking the credibility of scientists and experts. “It” refers to the Joint Invitational Meeting on MS Research chaired by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the MS Society. The top researchers were examining the so-called liberation (CCSVI) treatment being touted as a cure for MS. According to their report, “there is little support for the notion that ‘venous insufficiency’ for the brain or spinal cord contributes to the development of MS.”

Let me declare interest: my daughter has this disease. Believe me, I understand the patient fury at the lack of a cure and the hope that CCSVI will offer a breakthrough.

But today I would discourage my daughter from flying to Poland for the treatment, based on what I know – and, more to the point, do not know – about it from the experts.

But Ms. Duncan’s response is part of a larger problem: the lack of faith in experts, and a “shoot the messenger” view when they say what we don’t want to hear.

A California study published in the Public Understanding of Science journal tells us that “scientists’ efforts to influence public opinion have a limited effect.” In the European Union, 58% of respondents to a survey agreed that “[w]e can no longer trust scientists to tell the truth about controversial scientific and technological issues because they depend more and more on money from industry.”

Perhaps it doesn’t really matter what the average citizen thinks. But it’s a different story with our politicians, those who make decisions in the public interest. A lack of support, trust, or belief in expert evidence seems to be growing in this group. For example, to take the crime agenda, it’s now common knowledge that the experts – such as Canadian police chiefs, who one would think have some credibility on this file – are telling us and the politicians that the long gun registry saves lives.

One can only assume that the politicians reject expert views because a) they don’t believe them, b) don’t care about them for ideological reasons, c) are playing to a constituency, or (most likely) d) a combination of all three.

In the MS case, the federal government actually listened to the experts and decided not to fund clinical trials. Two provinces are proceeding anyway. Personally, I would hope to see politicians put more money put into promising scientific work (on stem cells for example) rather than on politically supported but scientifically weak ventures.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Opinion
 
Can government remember? Is it condemned to repeat mistakes? Or does...
 
In 2011, the World Economic Forum presented its vision of a...
 
Written by  Benjamin Selinger and Gabriel Flores A real challenge for...
 
Most attention in Canada is focused on today’s federal budget. But...
 
The February 5th Public Sector Quality Fair suggests that different ways...
 
Unprecedented realities demand new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing,...
 
2012 has been a very tumultuous year in the world of...
 
As the public sector faces its uncertain future, one key area...
 
The U.S. government 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results have...
 
I attended the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference (GTEC) last week...
 
I can remember when technology promised the end of paper and,...
 
At the GTEC Distinction Awards Monday night, there was ample cause...
 
There’s nothing like a Frankenstorm to make one ponder the value...
 
The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has released a report...
 
My car was in for a “recall” repair the other day,...
 
Governments are busy downsizing. But how much are they doing to...
 
Readers’ Digest Canada recently conducted a poll that found the Canadian...
 
It was minus ten Celsius, damp, with a wind chill that...
 
A U.K. House of Commons report by the Public Administration Select...
 
What’s in store for the public service of Quebec? We heard...
 
Most Americans … believe the government should invest more in providing...
 
Robert Thompson, the head of the government of Newfoundland’s Executive Council,...
 
“The public service is being asked to do the impossible,” says...
 
Even diplomats aren’t immune to the trends spawned by social media....
 
In the government’s Action Plan for Open Government, Ottawa commits to...
 
When new International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino launches a CIDA project...
 
“Do you see me? I’m electrified!” beamed Mark Tewksbury, as Emilie...
 
“Follow those who seek the truth. Run from those who have...
 
Covey became famous by articulating enduring principles of behaviour. Looking at...
 
Launched with so much optimism ten years ago, the government of...
 
What happens when a minister asks: “What’s the solution to the...
 
Ironically, at a time when governments should be ramping up to...
 
It’s no secret that the government workforce is changing in both...
 
Yesterday I chaired a Toronto session, sponsored by IBM, that looked...
 
Over the past few years there has been much dissatisfaction directed...
 
Do we read books anymore? Travel on airplanes or trains these...
 
In February, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper announced the formation...
 
It is unlikely that any international affairs expert could have predicted...
 
As a new professional in municipal government, the notion that municipal...
 
The U.K. Big Society project includes the reform of government service...
 
A few years ago, my colleague Paul Crookall and I wrote...
 
Wayne Wouters has got the perfect balance between telling it like...
 
Quote of the week “Departments have invested significant cost and effort...
 
Le présent article a été composé sur un wiki par la...
 
Stacked in different colours and piled high on our desks, paper...
 
President Obama has it right, and it’s a message that all...
 
A report released by RBC tells us that the fears of...
 
Quote of the week “…these changes (must) be grounded in the...
 
It’s no secret that service delivery is a concern of governments:...
 
If there is one area of government that continues to change...
 
Quote of the week “Departments have invested significant cost and effort...
 
Gene Dodaro is the Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accounting...
 
You may remember Vivek Kundra as the U.S. federal government Chief...
 
The Irish government is determined to reform government, including the way...
 
The federal Parliamentary Budget Officer has stated what everyone in Ottawa...
 
Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion examining the role of...
 
In a document entitled “Our Values at Work,” the Secretary of...
 
This report from the UK Public Administration Committee looks at the...
 
To maximize (social media) potential within your organization, intelligent risk management...
 
Robert Fonberg, Deputy Minister of Defence, was launching the Government of...
 
Yet another MP – Nancy Duncan – is attacking the credibility...
 
One area where there was virtually no discussion from any of...
 
Not too long ago, Canadians were challenged by their political leaders...
 
It is becoming apparent that we are entering a new phase...
 
Most Canadians were glued to their televisions on February 28 when...
 
The recent decision to prorogue Parliament on December 30th was yet...
 
Le 31 mars dernier, le greffier du Bureau du Conseil privé...
 
Après avoir passé plusieurs années à combattre le gaspillage et à...
 
After years of attacking waste and piling new administrative rules on...
 
What keeps new public servants awake at night? The latent potential...
 
To say that over the past decade, the nature and forms...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
Can government remember? Is it condemned to repeat mistakes? Or does...