4 November 2006

'The anti-science brigade threatens our progress and our prosperity.. they are a powerful and vocal lobby, with access to all the media'
By Bob Roberts, Deputy Political Editor


TONY Blair yesterday put himself on a collision course with Prince Charles when he attacked Britain's "anti-science brigade".

The PM laid into "powerful and vocal figures with access to all the media" who protested against GM-foods, stem cell research and animal experiments.

Charles has set himself up as an anti-science figure warning technology will kill the earth.

He has also led the campaign against GM-foods by questioning their safety.

But Mr Blair warned such sentiment could damage our economic future and said those who opposed scientific progress had not conducted their arguments rationally.

In a speech at Oxford, he added: "The anti-science brigade threatens our progress and our prosperity. We need political and science leadership to stand up to them.

"The anti-GM lobby does not campaign against GM human insulin because the benefits to people with diabetes is obvious.

"We need to take on and defeat the vestiges of anti-science. This won't be done by lofty superiority but by engagement with the street, with science out there talking, debating, listening and educating.

"In many instances, a powerful and vocal lobby, with access to all the media channels and an interest in polarising the argument, frames the debate.

"The misconceptions, often borne of the most outrageous distortion of fact by campaigners, who in accusing others of a lack of scruple show precious little of it themselves, can be so pervasive.

"They so easily take hold. Standing up to this is harder than it sounds. But it is a classic example of the struggle between short-term politics and long-term public good."

Downing Street insisted they were not trying to "personalise" the debate.

But Liberal Democrat science spokesman Evan Harris said Mr Blair himself was standing in the way of progress by closing educational facilities.

He said: "The PM has presided over the imposition of massive debt on science graduates, a failure to provide specialist science teachers and allowing the closure of university science departments."

And University and College Union chief Sally Hunt claimed 70 science departments had been closed down in the past seven years.