Last year, a throng of palaeoecologists from the world around descended into Oxford to discuss what the 50 most pressing questions in palaeoecology are. I was happy to see some great scientists and communicators among them, including Anson Mackay, Jacquelyn Gill, and Gavin Simpson, which gives me real hope that these questions were crafted with more than just ‘science for the sake of science’ in mind, and I think this really shines through in their article.
Drug control is one of the more messy fields of integration of science and policy, and is certainly up there with climate change and the mechanics of Boris Johnson’s hair. The post from yesterday demonstrated how complex the science-policy interface can be, with respect to David Nutt’s dismissal from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after pushing for his evidence to be used to guide policy reform in drugs control. Throughout, I made the assumption that his science was rigorous enough, not to avoid challenge, but to at least be of value to policy and decision-making processes. My current commute to and from Leicester is mind-numbingly boring. To offset this, on the way home I read his infamous co-authored paper from 2009, published in The Lancet for an analysis conducted into the relative harms of drugs in the UK. What I read about was a series of poorly-conducted analyses, and statements that didn’t seem to fit their results or were vague, meaningless and unsupported.
Cosy Science is a Café Scientifique style event held every now and then in London. August’s theme was on drug control policy, with Professor David Nutt, an infamous player in ongoing drug policy, giving a talk. The main points throughout the talk can be found storified here, with feedback from some users on Twitter. The main theme was that Nutt believed that his evidence, as Chair of the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs, should have been enough to dictate reform of drug use regulations. This is fine in theory, but in practice things appeared quite different, from what I could gather on the night.
The extraction of shale gas both in the UK and globally is currently one of the hot topics of environmental science. A vigorous debate exists between industrial companies who wish to pursue extraction of methane through a process of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and environmental groups who are insistent that methane extraction will be detrimental to the environment in numerous ways. This debate is largely fuelled by the persistent coverage of the negative aspects of fracking, as well as perhaps a sense of distrust towards the hydrocarbon industry. However, what is ubiquitous in these debates is a general lack of understanding of the core geoscience and technical aspects of extraction. This information is required, not just for governing bodies and industrial organisations to have an empirical foundation for actions, but also to engender a sense of public confidence through transparency and recognition of a scientifically rigorous basis.