GM Free Cymru

UK taxpayers unwittingly subsidise Science Media Centre with £370k per year to manipulate the science agenda

The Science Media Centre Mission

The Science Media Centre exerts an increasing powerful influence over the British scientific agenda and on the media coverage of science stories. It has a staff of nine, working from a London office, and there are offshoots in other countries as well. It is a registered charity, but has an increasingly strong political agenda, placing the interests of its supporters far above scientific objectivity. It specialises in putting up smokescreens and in issuing "spoiler" stories, and in vilifying "inconvenient" scientists. It hires friendly "experts" to give carefully manufactured "expert comments" to the press, and it pretends to represent a "scientific consensus" even where no such a thing exists. It depends, for its continued success, on a pliant and uncritical media in which there are hardly any good investigative science journalists left, and in which science editors prefer to receive ready-made stories which can be regurgitated. Many of its press briefings are essentially private affairs, to which only trusted journalists are invited. In the autumn of 2012 it used quite despicable tactics to "bury" a paper by Prof Seralini and others who found that GM maize and Roundup residues both have serious toxic effects in mammals. Its supporters did not want that story to be spread far and wide, and so SMC obliged.....

Science Media Centre Finances

Quote: "The Centre maintains its independence by capping the donations it receives, the vast majority of which are equivalent to less than 5% of its running costs. This is with the exception of the Wellcome Trust and Drayson Foundation, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council which funds the position of events officer at the Centre."

Among its current funders are Abbott Laboratories, Astra Zeneca, BASF, Bayer, CropLife International, FSA, Nature, Novartis, Syngenta and Sanofi Aventis -- most of whom are actively involved in the promotion of GM technologies, crops and foods. Some of these are up-front industry and trade bodies, and others operate through greenwashing pseudo-charities.

It is a source of major concern that the Government supports the SMC financially -- on a considerable scale. SMC's accounts deposited with the Charity Commission, and the information given on its own web-site, indicate that funding from the UK Research Councils to SMC in 2011-12 was in excess of £150,000, with a figure of £107k cited for 2012-2013.


Science Media Centre Finances


SMC's total income for the year 2011-12 was £740k, including grant aid of £80,000 for "core activities." On the pie chart above it is clear that about 25% of its income came from the UK Research Councils. That means about £185k for the year. According to figures kindly obtained by our MP, the Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills paid £32,500 to SMC in that year, with a further £50,500 coming from the Research Councils. (There is some confusion since some figures are for tax years and others are for calendar years.) There is a huge difference between the UKRC figure of £50,500 and the SMC figure of £185,000 -- much more than can be accounted for by the addition or subtraction of VAT. Somebody is being very economical with the truth. Research Council funding for 2012 rocketed upwards to £115,500, partly accounted for by a big increase in BBSRC funding (up to £22,500) and large grant of £60,000 from STFC to support a "dedicated events officer" to run additional "introduction to the media" events for researchers.

Of course, the above figures represent just a part of the public funding that goes into the coffers of this rather sinister organization. If you add Arms' Length Agencies, Central Government, Universities, Trusts and Foundations and Learned Societies, we are up to nearly 50% of the total pie. That would mean £370k -- a phenomenally high figure from the public purse, going to an organization which exists solely in order to spin and distort scientific news stories to best suit the interests of its corporate clients. (It is of course true that bodies like the Royal Society get large amounts of public money, some of which is passed on to SMC.) The trouble is that the SMC Annual Accounts give the bare minimum of detail -- sticking to the simplest format required by the Charity Commission.

If we, the taxpayers of the UK, are supporting this organization to the tune of about £370,000 per annum, we deserve to know what we are getting for our money. We consider SMC to be a very sinister organization, since (as mentioned above) it seems to specialise in the dark arts of twisting science stories to suit its clients (for example, in the biotechnology field), using hand-picked "rent-a-quote" scientists who can be counted upon not to deviate from the party line, and who are then represented to the word as 'the scientific community" or as holding a "scientific consensus." Far from assisting in the process of making science understandable to the common man, this organization is, at its heart, deeply anti-democratic, and acts against the public interest, as Powerbase has pointed out:

After scrutinizing the figures, It is still not entirely clear how much money was given to SMC in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 directly by the Government, and on what basis. From the pie chart, it looks as if the sum might have been c £50k for 2011-2012. Was it a grant, or a contract payment for services rendered? It is also unclear what the Arms Length Agencies gave to SMC for the same two years, and on what basis. They must have wanted some return on their investment. Again, it looks as if a sum of c £50k changed hands in 2011-2012.

Finally, when we look at the Research Council funding of maybe £185k for 2011-2012, it would be good to know what each one expected to obtain in exchange for their "grant aid".

We believe that there has been a very serious misuse of public funds here, and that this misuse is ongoing in that SMC seeks to manipulate and shape the scientific agenda, pushes very strongly the idea of a "scientific orthodoxy" and works hard to undermine and indeed vilify those scientists whom it considers to be "mavericks" or whistle-blowers. It can be argued that its real objectives are political and commercial, and not scientific. On that basis alone, it should not be in receipt of ANY public money -- especially in a time of financial austerity.