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Golden Eagles 2013

(as opposed to the Golden Duck award for promoting quackery)

Earlier this year, we toyed with the idea of an award to recognise those politicians who promote pseudoscience and anti-science. Names such as David Tredinnick (Conservative) came to mind for a whole series of reasons, ranging from his vocal support of homeopathy to his sympathy for astrology. That is why  the MP for Bosworth is often dubbed the MP for Holland and Barrett or the MP for Narnia. (Most worrying of all, David Tredinnick is on both the Health Select Committee and the Science and Technology Select Committee.

Indeed, the award could have gone to entire political parties, ranging from UKIP and its attitude to climate change to the Green Party and its hostility to GM. Oddly, both UKIP and the Green Party seem to have a common pseudoscientific interest in supporting homeopathy.

However, carrots have replaced sticks, and instead we decided to reward those politicians who have stood up for science and rationalism in Parliament. There were not very many nominations – not surprisingly – but the three politicians that we have chosen are worthy winners of the Golden Eagle Award.

Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat), MP for Cambridge.

Chi Onwurah (Labour), MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central.

Sarah Wollaston (Conservative), MP for Totnes.

You can read about each of the MPs below. The prize is £500 for each MP to donate to a science-friendly charity of their choice.

Julian Huppert

Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat) is MP for Cambridge.  He has a PhD in biological chemistry and has worked as a research scientists studying the structure of DNA at Cambridge University.

Author of the Liberal Democrat document “Policies for Science and Research” in 2012, he is a keen supporter of both the Science is Vital and All Trials campaigns. He has frequently promoted evidence based policy in areas such as misuse of drugs, evolution and creationism in education, abortion and complimentary therapies.

Discussing the use of evidence based policy, he noted “…But I would argue throughout for evidence-based policy, not spin-based policy or policy-based evidence. More scientists and engineers are needed in Parliament to deliver this”.

On receipt of this award, he said: “It is a huge honour to receive the Golden Eagle Award. It is hard work trying to champion the cause of science and evidence-informed policy making in our political systems, but one that I think it very important. Whether considering climate change, drugs policy, science funding or anything else, starting from the evidence is far better and more effective than starting off with a gut sense answer.”

His prize will be donated to the Cambridge Science Centre; an educational charity which hosts hands-on exhibitions, workshops, shows and talks to get the public excited about science and technology.

Chi Onwurah

Chi Onwurah (Labour) is the MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central. She has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College, University of London and has a background in hardware and software development. Prior to becoming an MP, she was Head of Telecoms Technology at OFCOM.

She has recently been campaigning for the government to help increase the number of women in STEM professions. She is particularly concerned with engineering – she says only 6% of professional engineers are women.

She has supported the Science is Vital campaign and stated in a speech “We need more engineers and technologists, scientists and entrepreneurs. We need great engineering education if we are to continue to be world class in the face of increasing competition.”

On being told of this award she said: “It’s a real pleasure as well as an honour to receive this award for standing up for science in politics. I believe politics and science are the twin engines of human progress so they really shouldn’t be such strangers to each other!  Some of the greatest challenges we face – climate change, healthy aging, how to feed a growing population – have science at their heart and if we are to make the right decisions for the long term we need well informed politicians and politically savvy scientists. I hope this award encourages both.”

She will be donating her prize to Practical Action; an NGO using technology to challenge poverty in developing countries.

Sarah Wollaston

Sarah Wollaston (Conservative) is MP for Totnes. She has degrees in medicine and pathology and has worked both as a GP and police surgeon.

She is a supporter of the All Trials campaign, asking questions in parliament and facilitating a meeting between the campaign organisers and the Secretary of State for Health. She considers homeopathy “dangerous claptrap” and reported the organiser of an alternative therapy cancer conference to Trading Standards.

A health select committee member, she refused a position of PPS in order to retain her independence to vocalise views that are sometimes contrary to the party line. This was exemplified by her criticising the government for backtracking on minimum alcohol pricing shortly after the appointment of Lynton Crosby, whose company has ties to the alcohol and tobacco industries.

On hearing of the award, she reiterated her support for the All Trials campaign: “I’d like to nominate Sense about Science for the £500 prize to help with their tireless campaign for clinical trial transparency. As long as ‘inconvenient’ data is withheld, the public will continue to be at risk from ineffective or in some circumstances dangerous treatments. This campaign has been hugely influential in informing the debate and I’m delighted that following intense lobbying from those on the draft Care Bill committee the need for transparency in research has finally been recognised on the face of the bill. There is far more to do to see this implemented by all pharmaceutical companies.”