Anyone who watches TV detective stories knows there are certain rules all good investigators must follow. The same rules apply in all kinds of inquiry – in law, journalism and science alike.
The rules are essentially what’s called the scientific method. A method for acquiring knowledge which has been at the foundation of all liberal democracies for more than 300 years.
Take nobodies word for it. Hearsay doesn’t prove anything. Forget any theories and assertions, especially from the authorities, and just focus on the facts – the empirical evidence – the things we can experience with our common senses of touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight.
Here’s a video not many people have watched, or are ever likely to watch. It’s a 40 min speech given by barrister Michael Shrimpton at the Britain on the Brink conference in Winchester on 22 September 2007.
What was the Britain on the Brink Conference you might ask? Well, according to the YouTube blurb is was:
A one day Conference by and for people of all parties and of none.
Hardly the kind of catch line that’s likely to attract many YouTube hits you might think. And you know what? … It hasn’t!
I’ve just been watching the excellent new BBC/Open University movie, The Challenger, starring William Hurt, telling the story of how Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman uncovered the truth behind the 1986 space shuttle disaster.
As a former physicist with a passion for science stretching back as far as I can remember, I’m getting increasingly concerned about the way the the meaning of the word “evidence” has been subtly changing over the last 40 odd years, to the point where it now means the opposite of what it originally meant.
Language is, of course, constantly evolving. There are many words which now mean something very different to what they originally meant. For most of human history that’s been a natural, organic process. But ever since Edward Bernays combined the science of crowd psychology with the psychoanalysis of his uncle, Sigmund Freud nearly a hundred years ago now to create the ‘science’ of Propaganda’, the practical applications of Public Relations, Messaging and Language Management have been going from strength to strength.
How tragic is that? The man responsible for building so much of Britain’s railway network, driven to a point where the only way he could keep his sanity was to get out of the business entirely and keep his mouth shut.
But I know exactly how he feels. Replace ‘railway’ with ‘television’, ‘journalism’, or ‘science’ and I’ve come to exactly the same conclusion myself.
“Technology is the art of arranging the world so that we don’t have to experience it.”
– Martin Heidegger
So, as technology is based on science, and science is based on empiricism, and empiricism is based on the experience of the senses, then the more technology we have, the less we experience the world, the less empirical science we understand and the less new technology we can create.
Or, put it another way:
“The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”
“Although New Labour may have come to power talking of ‘joined-up government’, in practice it has approached policy from the exactly opposite point of view – breaking a problem down into its component parts and then attempting to solve them in a linear fashion…
“As author Jake Chapman, a well known systems thinker, points out, there are two important properties of complex human-activity systems. One is that they can’t be managed by the use of crude performance targets, which bend them out of shape and make implementers ‘look the wrong way’ – at the targets rather than the needs of their clientèle. Nor, second, can they be managed by reductionist, command-and-control methods, because of the many unintended consequences.
“Instead, such systems have to be carefully managed for long-term, incremental improvements by ‘introducing learning processes rather than specifying outcomes or targets,’ and their success judged by users, not governments….
“Chapman’s important pamphlet contains a powerful warning. From a systems point of view, it is no accident that unintended consequences are multiplying like boils all over the public sector. The traditional mechanistic approach to policy has been savagely undermined by increasing complexity and interconnectedness; in a more complex world, policy really is becoming more difficult, to the extent that without a change of method, failure will be increasingly common.
Meanwhile, eaten by their toxic incentives, public-service organisations run by targets on command-and-control lines will, as an absolute certainty, become more dysfunctional and more neurotic until they either seize up or explode.”
This year marks a decade since a committee under Professor (now Sir) Michael Swann advised the British government to curb the then wholesale, indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture.
This committee was established because of amply evidenced claims that the inclusion of potent antimicrobial drugs in feedstuffs for pigs, poultry and other livestock (to promote growth and prevent disease) had encouraged the emergence of bacteria resistant to those agents and capable of causing human gastrointestinal disease.
DAVID LEE, the NFU assistant press officer at Agriculture House, Knightsbridge, was giving the new issue of Radio Times a quick once-over on the afternoon of April 26. Looking across at Roger Turff, the press officer, he said: ‘I’m about to spoil your day’.
Radio Times and the Brass Tacks programme on BBC 2 was to spoil quite a number of days for both NFU members and staff; between them they also involved other specialised divisions of the Union, farmers all over the country, and almost every other organisation connected with Britain’s meat industry.
THE BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation has flipped its lid. After weeks of scrupulous impartiality throughout the general election campaign – extending to even fiction programmes – it has seemingly sought to let off steam through the medium of a new programme called Brass Tacks.
This programme – billed in the Radio Times as ‘a new concept in broadcasting – is an insult to the public intelligence and professional journalism. If the hitherto much-respected BBC has any sensitivity left it will review the senior staff appointments on Brass Tacks.
AN INTERNAL Ministry of Agriculture survey of practices of calf dealers and fatteners has raised new official fears about drug abuse on British farms. The survey, which was instigated last year as part of the last Government’s policy of tightening up on animal welfare, turned its attention to the use of drugs almost as an afterthought.
But preliminary results have now revealed what Ministry vets call ‘worrying’ levels of apparent drug abuse on the farms involved. In particular, the survey has revealed wide and sometimes almost routine use of restricted antibiotics on many farms.
It seems to confirm the worries expressed in the recent BBC TV programme Brass Tacks about the use of one of the products – chloramphenicol, which is the most effective antibiotic against most types of salmonella including the common cattle infection Salmonella typhimurium.