Skeptical Voter Questionnaire Response
[Alistair Stevens response is also available on his website]
Thank you for contacting me regarding the future for the Skeptical Voter.
It is undeniable that the world is becoming ever more dependent on scientific and technological progress. In my opinion, to optimise the advantages, and minimise the disadvantages, of such developments, and to identify potential problems, rigorous scientific principles need to be applied to the assessment of their benefits, risks and costs.
In answer to your specific points relating to science:
Do you support the use of NHS money to provide unproven health products such as homeopathy? No, as a matter of principle I do not support the use, by the NHS, of any unproven therapeutic approach to treatment. We have, in the EU, a system of licensing drugs involving extensive scientific scrutiny to protect patients from harm. In addition, in England and Wales, we have the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence to consider the cost effectiveness of new therapeutics. In order to be provided by the NHS, health products have to pass a number of hurdles relating to safety, efficacy and cost effectiveness. Any product that does not pass these tests should not be provided by the NHS. The example you quote, homeopathic remedies, are an example of a therapy that, while safe, has not been reliably proven to be effective using the gold standard of controlled scientific clinical studies.
Should schools be allowed to teach creationism as an equivalent theory to evolution? There is overwhelming scientific evidence to support the theory of evolution (indeed, so much that some scientists are beginning to talk of the law of evolution). Creationism has no scientific support and should, therefore, be taught in the context of philosophy and not in the context of science.
Do you agree that testing on animals (within strict criteria) is a necessary part of the development of medicines? Yes, there is no doubt that there are stages in the development of new medical therapies where testing on intact animals is essential. This includes long-term safety aspects of new drugs.
Should policy-makers trust scientific evidence even when it appears counter-intuitive? Intuition is subjective, scientific evidence should be objective - I would always favour policies based on objectivity.
Do you think that abortion time limits should always be determined by the current scientific and medical consensus? The problem here is that scientific and medical advances are pushing the minimum age of foetal viability ever earlier. It is probably time to re-evaluate current practice in the light of these advances.
Should an independent government adviser whose views in their area of expertise conflict with government policy be able to express those views publicly? That depends on the nature of the expertise on which the advice is based. If you are thinking of the case of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, their decisions are based upon extensive review of the scientific literature. I see no reason why these views, and the evidence upon which they are based, should not be placed in the public domain. It is normal practice in the scientific community to publish evidence and conclusions drawn therefrom.
Your other questions are largely subjectively based, and these are my personal opinions:
Do you believe that religious belief should be legally protected from ridicule? There is a balance to be struck between freedom of expression (Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) and an individual’s right to human dignity (Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union).
Should religious courts such as Sharia and Beth Din be recognised as alternative systems within UK law? Individuals should be free to voluntarily utilise the services of religious courts, but UK law must retain precedence.
Should religious leaders be entitled to vote in the House of Lords? The House of Lords should be an elected second chamber; in such a circumstance any religious leaders in the Lords would have been elected and should be entitled to vote.
Do you support the reform of English and Welsh libel law to allow a stronger 'public interest' defence? Yes - the libel laws must be transformed to prevent the super-rich, dodgy companies and celebs hiding behind super-injunctions.