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The Greens

Chrissy Bee

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Political science: be careful what you vote for


With Labour, the Conservatives and even the Lib Dems tainted by the MPs' expenses scandal, minor parties such as the Greens and UKIP are hotly tipped for a breakthrough in the European elections on Thursday. The Greens' robust policies on climate change, in particular, will make them appear an attractive option to many science-minded voters.


But be careful who you vote for. A stronger Green representation in the European Parliament could be pretty disastrous for science.


You probably knew that the Green Party is implacably opposed to nuclear power and GM crops -- though each might have an important part to play in containing global warming. But did you also know that its manifesto pledges "an immediate ban on the harmful use of animals (including but not only primates) in research, testing and education", and the abolition of all zoos?


That isn't all. The bloggers Martin Robbins, of The Lay Scientist, and Frank Swain, of Science Punk, have questioned all the parties on several aspects of science policy, while the HolfordWatch blog has reviewed Green manifesto pledges on healthcare. A summary of all the major parties' health policies is also available on the Campaign for Science and Engineering website.


Some of the Greens' proposals are staggeringly extreme for a party that supposedly aspires to the mainstream.


Two examples stand out. It wants to ban all experiments on embryos, including those designed to improve fertility treatment as well as embryonic stem cell work. And its policies on alternative medicine are the height of naivety. The Greens' spokesman told Robbins and Swain:


    We want the gradual inclusion of complementary therapies within NHS provision so that patients have access to all available and appropriate treatments. Complementary therapies can often prevent the situation worsening and thus save resources.


There was no mention at all of whether these complementary therapies actually work. The party is also opposed to any regulation of alternative practioners, beyond the voluntary schemes operated by their industry bodies.


As HolfordWatch puts it:


    A number of aspects of the manifesto are strikingly flawed, to the point of being offensive. Many people rely on the NHS – and for a serious party to come up with a health policy this bad is frankly insulting.


The Greens, alas, are still very much a single-issue party, and that issue certainly isn't science. That is particularly worrying in the European arena, because MEPs are becoming increasingly important to regulatory decisions that affect science. In recent years, poorly thought-through European directives on clinical trials, electromagnetic fields, human tissue and animal experiments have all threatened to derail important medical research. Their damaging implications have been headed off in part by sympathetic MEPs who responded to lobbying by scientific and patient groups. I wouldn't count on Green representatives to deliver similar support.


The problem with voting Green is that you won't just be voting in favour of taking climate change seriously. You'll also be supporting a flaky science agenda that could do real damage.


It's useless.

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