I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Sir Paul Nurse at Scott Base in Antarctica a few years ago, and it was a genuine pleasure.
The charismatic president of the Royal Society and Nobel Laureate has now climbed even higher in my estimation for his latest public commentary on science and politics.
He branded UK politicians “cowardly” for ignoring scientific evidence that they deemed unpopular with the public: “They have the evidence in front of them but they sometimes are cowardly about using their intelligence and using our evidence to come to a leadership decision.”
This “indicates a total lack of leadership on the politicians part” he added.
I think this sentiment is indeed Knightly and highlights the sad truth that politics in many ways has evolved into a twisted and dysfunctional endeavour where compromise rather than bold and chivalrous acts are the order of the day – you can see where I am going with this, perhaps we should ban knighthoods for politicians unless they can clearly show these traits!
I should, however, also temper my praise for Sir Paul and his comments.
This is because they were related to specific examples of drug use and immigration policy in Britain – which does not have the best track record in either area.
I grew up in a working class environment in Britain where drugs were rife, and I have seen the harm they cause first hand – so no amount of science will convince me that making hard drugs legal is the right choice for society.
I am also an immigrant (twice!) and have some first hand appreciation of what a complex problem this is for modern society, with many positive but also potential negative outcomes – again science does not have all the answers here (it is often what is not openly discussed that is the problem).
I think Sir Paul’s comments were particularly appropriate to climate and emission policy, and the inertia that still exists in this area is shocking.
There are other areas too that were not specifically highlighted in his speech but probably make good examples of where politicians should listen to scientists more: Antibiotic use, road safety, family planning, and one of my greatest concerns here in NZ – the quality of indoor environments for state home dwellers.