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.