Scottish Parliament Science Information Service
In September 2003 the Scottish Parliament launched a science project to afford MSPs access to 'reliable and factual information':
- A one-year pilot Science Information Scheme for MSPs is being launched today at the Scottish Parliament. The Scheme is a collaborative project between the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in association with the Institute of Physics in Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.
- The main purpose of this service will be:
- to ensure that all MSPs have access to rapid, reliable and factual information on science, engineering and technology-related issues in order to help inform Parliamentary debates on scientific issues.
- The scheme will be operated through a group of 52 Topic Co-ordinators who will act as "sign posts" directing MSP queries to the appropriate expert. Queries will be directed to these topic co-ordinators through the RSC Parliamentary Liaison Officer or SPICe.
The contacts named at the end of the press release include the Parliament, the RSE and the Royal Society of Chemistry. However, the contact for the latter is named as Willie Rennie of PR company McEwan Purvis. This indicates that Rennie was passing himself off as working for a learned society while in reality he was employed by and a shareholder in the PR firm.
Furthermore all of the science related organisations involved have strong corporate links and are known to take pro-corporate views on science issues. For example:
- The service billed as 'rapid, and impartial' is run jointly by the parliament, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in association with other learned or scientific bodies. Some briefings for MSPs were provided through the scheme on an anonymous basis and initially the list of "topic co-ordinators" was to be kept confidential to avoid "inhibiting" their ability to provide "free and frank" advice.
- When Greens gained access to this list under freedom of information, they found that among those co-ordinators were Sir Tom McKillop, the then chief executive of AstraZeneca, now at the Royal Bank of Scotland, and other academics with ties to industry which the Greens say makes them partisan.
The GM crops/agrochemical divisions of AstraZeneca and Novartis merged in 2000 under the name Syngenta. As of 2008 Syngenta is one of the major producers of GM crops. Perhaps not coincidentally, the SPICe briefing on GM crops has been described by Dr Sue Mayer, director of campaign group Genewatch and a member of the UK Government's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, as “highly biased and pro-GM”. See also Comment on SPICe briefing on GM crops.
SPICe briefings released under the Freedom of Information Act:
Powerbase commentaries on the SPICe briefings:
- SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT SCIENCE INFORMATION SCHEME LAUNCHED Parliamentary News Release, 055/2003, Thursday 18 September 2003
- Greens: science briefings could be biased by business The Herald By Robbie Dinwoodie, April 14, 2006
- ”Greens call for investigation into ‘Impartial’ Science Information Scheme”, press release, Scottish Green Party, 14 April 2006, accessed November 2008