Scientists should never seek to hold themselves above scrutiny.
But in his Letter to the Editor in QCL on 22 July, ‘Let’s keep politics out of science’, Dr Ross Hynes of The Royal Society of Queensland seeks to shoot down AgForce and other industry groups calling for the creation of an independent Office of Science Quality Assurance, stating repeatedly that “peer-reviewed” publications are, well, peerless.
In his letter, Dr Hynes states that a new office would “undermine the traditional capacity of the public service to provide trustworthy advice…politicising what ought to be objective analysis.”
But from where AgForce, other industry groups, and rural communities and producers stand, science has been in bed with political parties of all colours and stripes for decades.
Agriculture has frequently been on the receiving end of flawed, highly questionable, peer-reviewed science used to devastatingly debilitating effect when legislating on areas including vegetation and the Great Barrier Reef.
Science has in fact, with each passing decade and astonishing advancement, become less trustworthy because of the very ‘spin’ Dr Hynes would like politicians, commentators, and lobbyists to avoid.
Obvious by omission to this list of people accused of bending scientific facts to achieve their own ends are greens groups. In fact, anyone whose opinions might align with the views of The Royal Society itself.
There are countless examples where the rigour of peer-reviewed publications has been questioned in the medical, education, and environmental fields.
In 2019, Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel identified several issues with the integrity and calibre of Australian research in his article in The Conversation, ‘There is a problem’: Australia’s top scientist Alan Finkel pushes to eradicate bad science’.
In July 2020, the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission released an audit report into reducing the risk of research fraud, often triggered by the scientific requirement to “publish or perish”.
In calling for a national Office of Science Quality Assurance, AgForce and industry groups are pursuing a reform into ‘trustworthy knowledge’, untarnished by politics, activists, or funding-dependent scientists.
Why any scientist worth his salt would question that level of independent oversight and rigour should perhaps be the subject of its own independent analysis.