Tony Gilland is the science and society director of the Institute of Ideas which was founded after the collapse of the magazine LM, formerly Living Marxism - the monthly review of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Gilland was also a Living Marxism contributor and is thus associated with the LM network.
In 1998 Gilland, together with the 'father' of the RCP, Frank Furedi, sent a letter headed Research Proposal: The impact of safety panics on the debate about the use of GMOs in food production to the major supermarkets, the Food and Drink Federation and the National Farmers' Union. For £7,500, it offered to educate their customers 'about complex scientific issues'.
The LM perspective on such issues is made clear in Gilland's article "Food frights" (LM, Feb 99) in which he argues that the 'panic' about GM food is not based on science or fact, but on fear. 'Until more people are prepared to challenge the way in which the flow of "information" to consumers and the public is controlled by a minority of people within campaign groups and sections of the media, the ability of consumers - and society - to enjoy the benefits of GM technology will be undermined.'
Like other members of the LM network, Gilland follows Furedi in believing that the public rejection of GM foods is 'irrational' and stems from a 'culture of fear' and of risk-aversion which is undermining a belief in science as a driver of human 'progress'. The need is to confront such irrational fears and the mistrust of science and technology that they lead to. 'The GM debate,' writes Gilland, 'is the terrain upon which society's relationship to science and human endeavour is currently being worked out.'
Like other followers of Furedi, Gilland invokes 'science' and 'technology', particularly biotechnology, as panaceas that can be deployed without care or reservation. A good example of this attitude of unquestioning acceptance is provided by an article contributed to a Spiked Online debate on GM, entitled Let the Sowing Begin. Here Gilland argues that the UK's GM farm-scale trials were 'an unnecessary obstacle to the introduction of this beneficial technology'. He also twice refers to GM crops simply as a 'benign technology'. No argument or evidence is advanced in support of this position. For Gilland, like Furedi's other followers, it is simply something that can be assumed.
Anything that does not fit with that assumption is rejected. In a February 2002 piece for Spiked, entitled "GM food: putting fear before facts," Gilland wrote that, 'The Royal Society's review of Pusztai's research, published in June 1999, concluded that his research was "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis" and "no conclusions should be drawn from it". This was pretty much the end of the Pusztai story.' In fact, it is less than half the story. Gilland makes no mention of the fact that a year after those claims by the Royal Society, Pusztai's research was published in the Lancet after successfully being peer reviewed. Nor does he mention that the Royal Society has been the subject of much critical comment for the tactics deployed by its leading Fellows in their efforts to discredit Pusztai and to suppress his research.
In April 2003, Gilland organised the Genes & Society Festival for the Institute of Ideas with sponsorship from Pfizer and assistance from CropLife International. Of the main contributors that Gilland brought in for the two day event, as many as 15-20 are known to be part of the network behind LM/IoI. Predictably, though, there was nothing to alert either their fellow contributors or the audience to this affiliation. This typifies the often underhand approach of the LM network. In addition, the claimed expertise of some of the network members was seriously open to question. Genes & Society Festival contributor Thomas Deichmann provides a good example of this.
Gilland is a member of the Working Party on peer review set up by Sense about Science, whose director Tracey Brown is also part of the LM-network, as is another member of the Working Party Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre (SMC) . Gilland is a regular attender at SMC events.
Publications, Resources, Notes
- Science: Can You Trust the Experts? (Debating Matters) by Institute of Ideas and Tony Gilland (Paperback - 31 May 2002)
- Nature's Revenge?: Hurricanes, Floods and Climate Change (Debating Matters) by Institute of Ideas and Tony Gilland (Paperback - 31 May 2002)
- Animal Experimentation: Good or Bad? (Debating Matters) by Institute of Ideas and Tony Gilland (Paperback - 30 Aug 2002)