Letter to the Times Higher Education, 5 March 2009

Sense About Science is annoyed with Times Higher Education for mentioning that Vivian Moses, who contributed to its booklet on GM, heads a biotech industry-funded lobby group. It says this is not a paid position so it is not a vested interest. Yet in your article Moses himself says that, if he had been asked, he would have mentioned it.

Moses is also part of the Scientific Alliance, as are several of Sense About Science’s scientific advisers, not to mention one or two of the other contributors to the GM booklet.

The Scientific Alliance is an industry-funded lobby group that openly promotes climate change denial – a topic on which Sense About Science has done almost nothing proactive to challenge the sceptics. Is this something else that shouldn’t be mentioned?

And when it comes to vested interests, what about Sense About Science itself? Times Higher Education refers to it simply as a “charity”, but a quick glance at the last accounts it lodged with the Charity Commission shows all the substantial sums from its named donors came from life science, pharma, big oil and mobile phone companies – funnily enough, the very industries whose interests it defends against their critics.

Sense About Science complains that some of these links make no difference to its views. Is this a scientific view? It is certainly contrary to a rash of recent research published in the British Medical Journal and Nature, among other places, which found that the corporate funding of scientific research can skew the results.

In view of such potential problems, transparency is vital if we are to establish the line between promoting “good science and evidence for the public” and something more akin to public relations for vested interests.

David Miller
Professor of sociology
University of Strathclyde