John Gillott

From Powerbase
(Redirected from John Gillot)
Jump to: navigation, search
LM network resources
John Gillott in 2004

John Gillott has a degree in applied mathematics. Between 2009 and 2013 Gillot was registered as a Phd student at the ESRC Innogen Centre in Development, Policy and Practice in the Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology, Open University.[1] He formerly worked at the Genetic Interest Group (GIG) London, as a policy officer, and was also on the staff of the online clinical genetics resource Genepool along with Juliet Tizzard of Progress Educational Trust.[2] He contributed articles to Confrontation (between 1987-1989) and Living Marxism (between 1992 and 2000), in both of which he sometimes used the Revolutionary Communist Party 'Party name' John Gibson. He also contributed articles to Spiked (between 2001 and 2010 at least)[3], by which time he no longer used his RCP name. He has also been a speaker at Institute of Ideas events (for example on Wednesday 14 March 2007)[4] and contributed articles to PET's weekly digest BioNews. He is associated with the LM network.


Gillott has a first degree in Mathematics.

Between 2009 and 2013 Gillot was registered as a Phd student at the ESRC Innogen Centre in Development, Policy and Practice in the Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology, Open University.[5] In 2009 this was listed as being on 'How Government and regulators pursue their objectives through public and stakeholder engagement'.[6]

By June 2010 this had changed to 'The Changing Governance of Science? A critical inquiry into the contemporary politics and governance of research as explored through the human tissue and embryo cases in the UK'[7]

John Gillott from the Innogen website, 2011

The 'Patents on Life' Directive

For more detail see Main Article Genetic Alliance UK

In 1997 the Genetic Interest Group became embroiled in controversy over the lobbying activities of Gillott's colleague, GIG's Director, for the EU Directive on the Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions (popularly known as 'Patents on Life'). What was controversial about Alastair Kent's lobbying for the Directive was that it was at total odds with GIG's declared policy of opposing attempts to patent genes. [8]

This policy departure is interesting when viewed in the context of the attitude of GIG's Policy Officer towards those that GIG should have been allied with in opposition to the Directive. Gillott was busy vehemently attacking those with whom he and GIG should have been allied in opposition to the Directive. 'The Directive has been vigorously opposed,' Gillott noted in an article at the time, 'by environmental campaigners who say it is an aspect of the 'race to commodify life' which amounts to 'biopiracy' '. Gillott dismisses such views as 'the rubbish peddled by the environmentalists.'[9]

Gillott's article appeared on the website of LM (formerly known as Living Marxism) of which Gillott was the science editor. That same year Gillott appeared in the Channel Four TV series Against Nature which presented environmentalists as comparable to the Nazis and as responsible for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World.

Since the demise of LM magazine in 2000, Gillott has been a regular contributor to the Spiked website edited by LM's ex-editor, Mick Hume. Both Gillott and his GIG colleague Alastair Kent have also spoken at events run by the Institute of Ideas, an organisation headed by LM's former co-publisher.

Targeting Environmentalists

John Gillott and Manjit Kumar, Cover of the 1995 edition of their Science and the Retreat from Reason. 'It is difficult to understand', wrote one reviewer 'how a book that began with such a brilliant defense of science and reason... could lead in the end to such a state of unreason'

Environmentalists are consistently a key target in Gillott's writing. In 1999 Gillott appeared, like Juliet Tizzard, in the Channel Four TV series, Against Nature, directed by Martin Durkin. The series painted environmentalists as doom-mongering Nazi's responsible for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World. In one of his Spiked-science articles from 2001, Gillott claims that the apparent scientific consensus on global warming is 'rigged through a media compliant to Environmentalists' extremism'[10]

Gillott's preoccupation with opposing and attacking the environmental movement is also a marked feature of a book he co-authored with Manjit Kumar, who was once a prominent member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. In Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997) - first published in Britain by Merlin Press (1995) - Gillott and Kumar argue that progress requires the unfettered growth of science. This it sees as threatened by the irrationality of the environmental movement.[11]

Despite being published by the Monthly Review Press, Gillott and Kumar's book attracted a review in their journal Monthly Review that contained some unusually scathing criticisms. In his review John Bellamy Foster argues that although the book advances a ' strong and in many ways brilliant defence of science and reason', in the end it 'turns, in my view, into the opposite.' The book, according to Bellamy Foster, takes on 'all the assumptions' of 'the current "brownlash" against environmentalism', ie the attempt to minimize the seriousness of environmental problems in order to fuel a backlash against environmentalism and 'green' policies.[12]

Bellamy Foster is also highly critical of the authors' thesis, advanced particularly in the book's penultimate chapter, that environmentalists are 'the main contemporary enemies of science and reason'. He also notes the authors' 'naive willingness to accept all technology without question' - something which 'is evident throughout Science and the Retreat from Reason.'[13]

The authors, he says, 'write as if the left is simply being irrational in being skeptical about the wisdom of obtaining "cheap electricity from atomic power" or the application of "genetic engineering" (p. 173) --as if these technologies did not raise quite horrific possibilities.' Gillott, by contrast, is no skeptic but a true believer, writing of 'an imperative to crack on with genetic engineering: it will help improve the human condition. Diseases will be cured, new drugs will be developed, and, in the distant future, we might want to make more fundamental changes to our genetic constitution.' [14]

Bellamy Foster continues, 'Not ones to stop half-way in their criticisms, Gillott and Kumar go on to contend that all of those who believe that there are ecological limits to economic growth (even ecological limits to capital accumulation) have succumbed to "a mass psychosis about limits in nature" (p. 166). Such views, we are told, are anti-science and anti-reason. Yet the fact remains that they are held by many, probably most, scientists, and hence cannot simply be presented--as Gillott and Kumar are wont to do--as attacks on science from without...'

Bellamy Foster continues, 'Ultimately, it is not just environmentalists who come under attack in Gillott and Kumar's book but all of those, among scientists and philosophers, who have raised questions about the role of science in contemporary society. Thus among those who are supposed to have retreated from science and reason we find, astonishingly, such names as Robert Oppenheimer (because of his quote from the Bhagavad Gita--"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds"--when viewing the first atomic blast), Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead (pp. 22, 113, 197).'[15]

Bellamy Foster concludes his review, 'It is difficult to understand, in fact, how a book that began with such a brilliant defense of science and reason, and indeed of realism, could lead in the end to such a state of unreason.'[16]


Media Presence

Gillott has a limited media presence which is mostly linked to his time working as Policy officer for the GIG between 1996 and 2005.

Writing for Living Marxism/LM (1989-2000)

As John Gibson (February 1989 - January 1994)

Between February 1989 and January 1994 Gillott wrote for Living Marxism under his party name of John Gibson contributing 21 articles. The issues covered included: prospects in the former Soviet countries (3); an anti-environmentalist discourse (6); science under attack (3); genes and intelligence; in support of genetic engineering (2); the hypocrisy of Western nuclear weapons policy (2); war economy, and one book review.

As John Gillott (February 1994 - Summer 2000)

Between February 1994 and the final issue of Living Marxism/LM in Summer 2000 Gillott wrote 21 articles and 2 commentaries using his own name. The issues covered included: animal rights vs human rights; science under attack (5); against the regulation of scientific research and access to new technologies (2); in support of genetic engineering (6); an anti-environmentalist discourse (8); the precautionary principle;

Imperialist environmentalism

Environmentalists were accused of Western imperialism:

The long-term needs of people in all areas of the world will be best served by implementing the most advanced technology across the board, and establishing the highest level of communication and cooperation necessary to use it....This long-term goal is negated by the thinking behind sustainable development, which is ultimately about limiting development by raising environmental concerns. The bottom line message of sustainable development is: things cannot change much, so accept your lot. So while 'appropriate' technology sounds fine in the World Bank/Oxfam brochure, on the ground in Africa it means more back-breaking work using limited, outdated technology[17]

Energy Consumption and Technological Innnovation

He also takes the line that in order to deal with climate change humanity should push for more energy production:

Whatever measures are taken now to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, global warming is going to occur to some degree if the scientific models are correct. The accumulations of gases already released will see to that. One lesson we need to draw from history and the experience of the world today is this: if contemporary society is to face up to the challenges of global warming, there can be no place for conservationism. Indeed our environmental doommongers could help bring their own nightmares to life if some of their policy recommendations were acted upon. For underlying many of the calls from Greens to cut carbon dioxide emissions is the belief that global warming is a warning to reduce the scale of human production. This would only put us at the mercy of climatic extremes. What is needed is more of that kind of human activity, especially in the fields of science and technology, if we want to protect ourselves from the impositions of nature[18]

Environmentalism anti-humanist

The acceptance of natural limits is seen as anti-humaist:

The mindset which imagines that there are natural limits to human growth is a barrier to dealing with the real limits which capitalist society imposes on human inventiveness and needs. Global warming and biodiversity loss may well pose a severe problem to humanity. But only because society limits what people can do in response. And it is these limitations which are ignored by those who focus on the supposed problem of population growth and present humanity as little better than animals. In this they follow Malthus, who wrote that human institutions had little influence 'in comparison with those deeper-seated causes of evil, which result from the laws of nature, and the passions of mankind'[19]

Genetic engineering

Similarly any questions raised against the potential dangers of unregulated genetic engineering research were seen as anti-humanist, holding up the inevitable march to progress:

Commercialism is not the real target under attack; indeed the reaction to the role of the profit motive in biotechnology is out of all proportion to the real problems that commercialism currently causes in the field. Rather than joining in a phoney attack on profit-making, scientists would do better to illustrate the gains to be made for humanity from an instrumental and manipulative approach to nature. Making an uncompromising case for the oncomouse would be a good starting point...Commercial imperatives must be criticised for the right reasons. To join in with the anti-patenting lobby on the particular issue of the oncomouse would be to endorse what is at heart a regressive, anti-science, anti-humanist campaign. By contrast, upholding our right to develop tools like the oncomouse can be a useful step towards setting a human-centred agenda[20]

Society Anti-Science

Science is seen as on the retreat:

Society today is not dominated by science. Indeed it is arguable that contemporary culture is more anti-scientific than at any time since the Enlightenment. Science as technique continues to advance, but popular enthusiasm for a vision of progress based on science has entirely disappeared. What's more, popular opinion is suspicious, even hostile, to the idea of science as a liberator[21]

Genetic engineering

He stresses the positive potential for genetic engineering and that nature is itself a random selection process:

All technology and medicine is about changing nature, or stopping nature taking its course. In this sense, intervention at the genetic level is no different. Intervention at the genetic level is of a more fundamental character, however, because of the regulative role of genes in many developmental processes and diseases. But this ought to be an argument for, rather than against, genetic engineering, since it promises more profound improvements in the human condition than conventional medicine...There is no balance in nature. Because of the unplanned character of evolution, the only order that has been created is a dynamic one in which some species thrive and others die. Change, contingency, and destruction are the only fixed patterns in nature.[22]

He also argues critics of genetic engineering are overly pessimistic and anti-humanist and assumes genetic engineering will inevitably be beneficial:

Other critics argue that humanity will never have a sufficient understanding of nature to risk making such fundamental changes...Such pessimism is unwarranted, and mythologies we can do without. Humanity already has a fairly good grasp of biology, and that knowledge is rapidly advancing. Caution must be based on rational, scientific principles, not mystical mumbo-jumbo. Caution must also be tempered by the recognition that it is only by experimenting, and making mistakes, that progress in scientific understanding is made. Diseases will be cured, new drugs will be developed, and, in the distant future, we might want to make more fundamental changes to our genetic constitution[23]


He argues regulation of genetic engineering only restricts potential gains:

Popular attitudes and the focuses of campaigning activity are in flux, while therapeutic applications of human genetics are still some way off. Outright bans are unlikely in all but a few areas, but more subtle restrictions, such as excessive delays in decision-making, high regulatory hurdles and a cautious attitude among investors, could well end up becoming the norm if supporters of human genetics accept the new received wisdom on how to regulate the field, and rely on public support for medical applications of science to protect the field from its critics[24]

Writing for BioNews (1999-2013)

Gillott has worked as a volunteer writer for BioNews since June 1999, when it was first established as the weekly digest for the Progress Educational Trust (PET). He has contributed 14 articles and two reviews in this time. These articles have continued to expound the virtues of gentic technologies such as cloning and embryo screening as well as questioning the extent to which educationall attainment can be entirely attributed to genes.

Writing for Spiked (2001-2010)

Gillott wrote 10 artticles for Spiked between May 2001 and July 2010. Many focused on the benefits of genetic engineering technologies and questioned the scientific virtue of climate change research.

Climate science questioned

In a review ofthe skeptical environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg he argues an anti-humanist, moralist environmentalism has gripped elite circles and this has seen a rise in unsicentific concerns gaining prominence:

Reading The Skeptical Environmentalist, the first thing we learn about Bjørn Lomborg is that he cares more for truth than appearances. In the opening paragraphs he associates himself with the late Julian Simon, a critic of environmentalist thinking who was reviled and ridiculed by his enemies...Lomborg’s approach is fresh, direct and rigorous. There is no hedging of arguments, no kowtowing to the Green great-and-good, and no shame in using the methods of statistics and economic assessment where others prefer moralism[25]

Climate and the precautionary principle

He argues the precautionary principle in climate science leads to a stifling of technological innovation:

Although the IPCC is formally independent of the UNFCCC, being charged with simply providing scientific assessments, in practice (especially through the summaries presented to policy makers) it works within this precautionary framework. As a result, the IPCC has introduced an assumption of harm into its policy recommendations.

Human societies have the potential to develop and manage environmental change. As regards human wellbeing, the level of development is by far the most important causal factor in determining the impact of environmental change. One consequence of the assumption of harm is that the public discussion often ignores this. This is reinforced by the cultural framework in which climate change is discussed, which tends to see economic and technological development as part of the problem, rather than the solution[26]

Hybrid embryos

In one article he argues the rejection of research combining animal and human embryos is negative for science:

In 2000, an Expert Group chaired by the UK’s chief medical officer and including the chief scientist recommended a ban on the creation of hybrid embryos...‘The Expert Group concluded that the use of eggs from a non-human species to carry a human cell nucleus was not a realistic or desirable solution to the possible lack of human eggs for research or subsequent treatment.’ Worse still perhaps, there was no public opposition to this proposal from any interested scientists at the time. The freedom to conduct open-ended inquiry, to discover new things, should be the principle on which all research is conducted. But support for this, especially in a controversial area such as human reproduction, has to be won in the political arena. It is, ultimately, subject to a democratic decision. Faced with public unease and hostile lobby groups, the temptation is to hype the medical potential of the research, to provide a counter-weight[27]

Career Chronology

Educational Background

  • 2012[33]/2013[34] - Completed PhD
  • BSc in Mathematics

Other Links with the Network

Panel Appearances







  • John Gibson, 'The working class under Thatcher', Confrontation, No. 2, Summer 1987, London: Junius Publications, ISSN 0269-9966, p. 31-83.


  • John Gibson, 'Review', Confrontation, No. 5, Summer 1989.
  • John Gibson, 'No nukes here?', Living Marxism, No. 4 - February 1989, p. 35.
  • John Gibson, 'An ozone-free zone?', Living Marxism, No. 5 - March 1989, p. 36
  • John Gibson, 'The war economy', Living Marxism, No. 6 - April 1989, p. 32.
  • John Gibson & Manjit Singh, 'Silence of Despair', Living Marxism, No. 14 - December 1989, p. 34.




  • John Gibson, 'The Greens: eaten up', Living Marxism, No. 31 - May 1991, p. 15.
  • John Gibson, 'Germany one year on', Living Marxism, No. 33 - July 1991, p. 18.
  • John Gibson, 'The dangers of sustainable development', Living Marxism, No. 38 - December 1991, p. 22.








1999 John Gillott, 'We must allow therapeutic applications of cloning', BioNews, 28 June 1999.














Genetic Interest Group



  1. Internet Archive of, accessed 8 December 2013
  2. GM Watch 'John Gillott', Accessed 1st August 2007.
  3. Spiked Articles by John Gillott, accessed 11 March 2011
  4. Institute of Ideas Health forum, accessed 11 March 2011
  5. Internet Archive of, accessed 8 December 2013
  6. Development Policy and Practice John Gillott, Open University, Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 8 October 2009 on 8 December 2013.
  7. Development Policy and Practice John Gillott, Open University, Retrieved from the Internet Archive of 16 June 2010 on 8 December 2013.
  8. George Monbiot, Emotional blackmail, The Guardian, 7th May 1998, accessed 4 May 2011
  9. 12-02-97: 'Gene Patenting: piracy or progress?' - John Gillott, co-author of Science and the Retreat from Reason, looks at the brouhaha surrounding gene patenting.
  10. Spiked Online 'Global Warming - where's the consensus?', 22 May 2001, Accessed 1st August 2007.
  11. John Gillott and Manjit Kumar Science and the Retreat from Reason, London : Merlin Press, 1995.
  12. Science in a Skeptical Age by John Bellamy Foster, Review of, John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18. Monthly Review, Accessed 1st August 2007.
  13. Science in a Skeptical Age by John Bellamy Foster, Review of, John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18. Monthly Review, Accessed 1st August 2007.
  14. 'Progress: Designer Genes', Living Marxism Issue 66, April 1994.
  15. Science in a Skeptical Age by John Bellamy Foster, Review of, John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18. Monthly Review, Accessed 1st August 2007.
  16. Science in a Skeptical Age by John Bellamy Foster, Review of, John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18. Monthly Review, Accessed 1st August 2007.
  17. See 'Futures: The dangers of 'sustainable development', Living Marxism, No. 76 - February 1995, p. 34.
  18. See 'Futures: Wouldn't a bit of global warming be a good thing?', LM 106, p. 34, December 1997/January 1998.
  19. John Gillott, 'Futures: Too many people?', Living Marxism, No. 71 - September 1994, p. 34.
  20. See John Gillott, 'Of oncomice and men', Living Marxism, No. 87 - February 1996, p. 34.
  21. John Gibson and Manjit Singh, 'The scapegoating of science', Living Marxism, No. 48 - October 1992, p. 35.
  22. John Gillott, 'Progress: Designer genes', Living Marxism, No. 66 - April 1994, p. 32.
  23. John Gillott, 'Progress: Designer genes', Living Marxism, No. 66 - April 1994, p. 32.
  24. John Gillott, 'Genetic engineering: a cautionary tale', LM 128, p. 18, March 2000.
  25. John Gillott, 'The Skeptical Environmentalist: John Gillott reviews the book that has landed like a bombshell on environmental debates', 10 September 2001, Spiked, accessed 24 March 2015.
  26. John Gillott, 'Global warming - where's the consensus? The facts behind the politics', 22 May 2001, Spiked, accessed 24 March 2015.
  27. John Gillott, 'Who’s afraid of ‘Frankenbunnies’? Scientists should vigorously oppose the UK authorities' clampdown on research involving 'hybrid' embryos', 8 January 2007, Spiked, accessed 24 March 2015.
  28. There are conflicting sources for his start date, one suggests the 18th of June the other September. For early start date see: Tom Wilkie, 'Go-ahead for human genetics scrutiny', The Independent,, 18 June 1996.
  29. See 'History of Genetic Alliance UK (Formerly known as Genetic Interest Group)', GIG 2006, p. 25.
  30. See 'History of Genetic Alliance UK (Formerly known as Genetic Interest Group)', GIG 2006, p. 25.
  31. Unclear when this role began and ended. However, according to a speeaker note he was 'on the staff of the online clinical genetics resource Genepool' in 2004. See 'The great debate', at Newcastle Science festival, 17th March 2004, accessed 19 March 2015.
  32. See John Gillott, 'Staff Profile', Innogen, accessed 19 March 2015.
  33. See John Gillott, 'Staff Profile', Innogen, accessed 19 March 2015.
  34. See John Gillott, 'Staff Profile', The Open University, accessed 19 March 2015.
  35. See 'Playing it safe: Science and the Risk Society', at the Great Debate at the Newcastle Science Festival, 17 March 2004, accessed 19 March 2015.
  36. See 'Genetics and genomics: medicine made to measure?', 31 October 2009, Battle of Ideas, accessed 19 March 2015.
  37. See 'Epigenetics: are you what your parents ate?', 21 October 2012, Battle of Ideas, accessed 19 March 2015.