Until today, I had a button in my sidebar that linked to a guide on peer review written by a group called Sense About Science. The Scientist ran a story on this guide in 2005. Why have I removed that link? Because I've realised that Sense About Science is a front organisation.
I came across Living Marxism or LM magazine as a student. LM was the latest incarnation of the once Trotskyite Revolutionary Communist Party. I naively received a free copy of LM in my first term at university after one of those pavement "muggings" so popular with charities, and quickly made sure I cancelled my direct debit after reading its ramblings. LM/RCP had a strange strategy for a supposedly left-wing organisation, which consisted of adopting contrarian and right-wing positions. They denied the Rwandan genocide, denied climate change, belittled concerns about child pornography as 'censorship' as part of their Campaign for Internet Freedom and were rather equivocal on racism and sexism, attacking the Anti-Nazi League and feminism. In 2000 LM folded after losing a libel trial - it had wrongly claimed that ITN had deliberately misrepresented pictures from the Bosnian War. Good riddance, you might think.
Sadly, the end of LM was not the end of the "LM group". Their "entryist" approach has continued with Sp!ked Online, but also with various other front organisations.
Among these front organisations is Sense About Science. Fiona Fox, a member of one of their working parties, used to be known as Fiona Foster. Fiona Foster wrote the article denying the Rwanda genocide. She is the director of another LM front organisation, the Science Media Centre. Many of the other individuals behind Sense About Science are similarly part of the LM group, including the director Tracey Brown, who wrote that article for The Scientist.
Not everyone has fallen for the entry of the LM group into the arena of science policy. Writing in 2004 in the magazine of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (page 29), Tom Wakeford warns that we should "Embrace democracy, not the People's Front":
Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre are very seductive for scientists, as they counter some of the current anti-science trends in the media. However much their messages may seem to gel with those of scientists, they have their own agendas. Don't fall for it - the LM group are cynical and deceptive.
Something odd is happening at science policy meetings these days.
Every time a reasonable old soul turns up to suggest that everyday people are actually quite sensible in their attitudes towards science and technology, out comes a response from a stranger at the head of the table.
‘No,’ they say,‘the public don’t know enough. Listening to their ignorance and prejudice will lead to the end of civilisation.’
‘Who is that?’you nudge the person next to you.‘Oh, that’s the Institute of Ideas/Sense about Science/Spiked person,’comes the reply. ‘Can’t remember their name – they’re new here.’
You’ll remember that sketch from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:
Brian: Are you the Judean People’s Front?
Reg: F* Off!
Reg: Judean People’s Front?? We’re the People’s Front of Judea! Judean People’s Front, pah!!
The sketch was inspired by student politics and might as well have been written about science’s newest Front.They began as the Revolutionary Communist Party groupings that appeared at the fringe of campus life in the late 1970s under Frank Furedi, who now teaches sociology at the University of Kent.
This post is my opinion, and not that of BioMed Central.