East London Humanist chairman Paul Kaufman asks for the evidence of political policy


- Credit: Archant

Show us the evidence!! It’s a catch phrase we should consider using every time a claim is made.

Not least when politicians come asking for our votes. Failure to understand, consider and evaluate evidence is rife.

It lies behind the formation of Sense about Science, a charity founded in 2005 with the mission of helping people make informed decisions. Director of public policy, Prateek Buch, recently led a fascinating discussion of the East London Humanist Group.

Sense about Science has a data base of 6000 scientists, including Nobel prizewinners. It trawls the media each day in order to challenge every bonkers or unsupported claim as it arises, whether in adverts, sensationalist reporting, or from the mouths of politicians. A typical area of misunderstanding is a general fear of harm caused by ‘chemicals.’ The very word causes some to reach for their rubber gloves and yearn for a return to simpler times when such things didn’t exist. Scaremongering prays on a fundamental failure to appreciate that everything in the world is comprised of chemicals. We have always been exposed to a ‘cocktail’ of chemicals, and knowing whether they are man-made or occur naturally tells us nothing about how harmful they are. For example, how many people appreciate that many E numbers in food, around which there is so much suspicion, are simply chemicals found in nature.

There is no shortage of those who would exploit our gullibility, whether it is in relation to homeopathic medicine or detox potions of unproven remedies. Is it enough for politicians to simply assert that this or that is the best policy? Take the so-called war on drugs. Is policy based on evaluating evidence of approaches in countries which have had more success than us? Or is it based simply on a perception of what will win most votes? We can all have different opinions. But do remember to ask the politicians for the evidence on which their opinions are based. More from Paul