Twitter has been making a lot of noise today about the appointment of Tory MP David Tredinnick to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The response has been a mixture of mocking, anger and deep concern.
Tredinnick, best known for his advocacy of homeopathic medicine, has been a member of the Health Committee since 2010. There was similar outrage at the time, but I’ve yet to see conventional medicine fall to its knees as a result.
Although it’s jolly good fun to jump on the ‘ha ha, crystals’ bandwagon, Tredinnick is an elected representative of his constituents. Whether you like his views or not – I personally believe they’re unsubstantiated nonsense – he represents an electorate with a right to be heard in Parliament.
Tredinnick has the same right to stand for committee positions as any other MP and, according to Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert, was the only Tory to stand. If this is correct, then I would agree with Mark Henderson that it reveals a ‘worrying indifference to science’ within the Conservative party.
I do not, however, share the concerns of those who believe Tredinnick could in any way damage the committee. He is one member amongst many, and it seems unlikely that his views will emerge as the prevailing voice of the committee. To exclude an MP from a committee based on their views would, in my opinion, be anti-democratic; it’s a slippery slope to technocracy. But what do those inside the committee think?
As luck would have it, the position of the moon last June forewarned me that Tredinnick would be appointed to the Science and Technology Committee in 2013. Enlightened, I asked the clerk of the committee, Dr Stephen McGinness, to share his views on Tredinnick. Below are the raw transcripts of our conversation, which I have left as-spoken to avoid editorialising.
I hope that this transcript will help to reassure concerned skeptics that Tredinnick will not somehow ‘spoil’ the committee, and that Dr McGinness is perfectly capable of managing a diverse range of perpectives in its membership.
14th June 2012
Do you think it’s a problem when there are people in the House that are seen as anti-science, such as David Tredinnick with his views on homeopathy?
No, because again, there’s… what it was, last BBC poll said something like a quarter to a third of people don’t believe climate change is taking place, that reflects the country. If you went ‘if you’re a climate change denier, you’re not allowed to be in Parliament,’ what do you stop next, you know, so no, if someone’s anti-science, anti-Western science, it’s that whole thing of saying ‘you’re anti-science’, but that’s not how David Tredinnick would class himself, he’d say he’s pro, he’s very much for looking at the alternatives, and he says he would rather look at the alternatives than just do this very clinical route of science, and so you say well, there’s a lot of people, a lot of people out there, who think that’s the way to go and they should have that voice in Parliament too, and I don’t think science does well if it sits there unchallenged. So yeah, if there’s members who challenge science and challenge scientific truths, then that’s got to be a good thing, because if the truth is truthful enough, it should be able to stand that challenge, and if it’s not able to stand that challenge then maybe it isn’t as truthful as it thinks it is. So, no, I don’t think… I think it’s good to have that breadth as long as members on both sides are open in their debate and willing to hear out the other side, then there’s no problem in having any sort of person in Parliament, they’ve got to come, they’ve got to be able to put their view, put it well and cogently, and argue and debate and vote and come to decisions hopefully that reflect what an informed UK populace would go for, because that’s the whole idea of them, they represent the common people, the population as a mass, as they might be if they’re informed, and what we have with the backup, with POST and with the Library, with the committees, is a way of injecting information into that body of people. Part of it’s science, part of it’s economics, part of it’s other such policy, but it’s that way of injecting that information to bring members up to a level of knowledge that everybody would like to have before they made a decision, and see if we can get informed decisions made in Parliament, and that’s what it’s all about; helping members like anybody else in the country to get into a position where they can make an informed decision. That’s my job, the Library’s job, POST’s job.
So do you feel that before those backups come in, do you think there’s a duty to represent public ignorance in certain things?
I wouldn’t say ignorance, I don’t think we represent ignorance, I think we represent perspectives, and what you do is, if a member never wants to make a decision in ignorance, we have all these support networks to take the ignorance away. When you take the lack of knowledge or lack of understanding away, what you’re left with is somebody like that person, but informed. So, you’re representing all those other things, all those drives, all that perspective that they’ve got from their life, from that particular place in the country, comes to Parliament and becomes informed and is able to make an informed decision that’s true to that background, that’s the strength of a local constituency link, that person usually comes from that area and they represent the sort of ways that the people in that area think, and then they come here, and hopefully pick up an awful lot of other stuff that’ll allow them to bring that perspective with a bit of knowledge to policy and legislation.