In The Geek Manifesto, I wrote about how skeptics had begun to use a website called Pledgebank.com to assemble a critical mass of people to complain about quacks making unsupported claims. I was delighted when Dave Watts decided to use the same tool for another campaign — to send a copy of the book to all 650 MPs.
I’m equally delighted that my publisher, Transworld Books, has today decided to support the campaign by agreeing to match every individual pledge that’s made. So if 325 people make the pledge, we’ll be able to send a Geek Manifesto to every MP in the House of Commons.
My editor, Susanna Wadeson, explains:
“We thought we should up the ante. If our MPs read just one book this year it should be this one.”
The book’s selling for £9.87 on Amazon, so by agreeing to spend a tenner — and spreading the word — you’ll ensure that a copy lands on the desk of two MPs once we’ve collected enough pledges.
At the time of writing, 168 people have pledged (including me and several other geeks you might have heard of — Simon Singh, Adam Rutherford, Helen Arney). So we’re more than halfway there — another 157 pledges needed. Please do pass on to anyone you think might share the book’s sentiments, and think it worth sharing them in turn with our elected representatives.
One scientist who read the book, Chris Chambers, couldn’t even wait for the pledge to conclude. He’s already sent a book to his MP, Jenny Willott — together with an open letter, which he’s published on his blog, explaining why the ideas in it matter.
“My letter is more than just a note to say “here’s a book, hope you like it”. I’m also using this opportunity to try something that Mark suggests at the end of Geek Manifesto: geeks need to get involved. So I’ve offered my services to Jenny as a “constituent scientist”. Perhaps this is naïve, and I don’t yet know what it will involve, but let’s see where it leads. It’s an idea in progress, and it will be a travesty if the Geek Manifesto is but a flash in the pan. Some concerted action is needed by scientists to get our message across in a constructive way. And what better way than to help our MPs in the tricky business of developing evidence-based policy?
“If I offer my expertise in isolation, my influence will be small. But if other scientists get involved too then we may be able to achieve something significant here. So please join in!
“I’m not saying science has all the answers, but it has a lot to contribute to politics. If the Geek Manifesto convinced me of one thing, it’s that scientists aren’t doing nearly enough to see that potential realised.”
I’m happy this has taken off for two different reasons. First, one of the goals of writing the book was to inspire people who care about an appreciate science as a way of thinking, and motivate them to engage more with politics. That so many are already willing to take a small step like this is heartening. I’m convinced that online tools like this can help us to make a difference.
Secondly, people who are already passionate for science were only one of the audiences I wanted to reach with the book. I also want its message to be heard and listened to by MPs, civil servants, and others who could potentially start to put some of the ideas I advocate into action.
I’m speaking to civil servants next month, and MPs such as Julian Huppert and Chi Onwurah have been kind enough to help to publicise it. But they’re both among the relatively few MPs who already appreciate the value of science, as a scientist and engineer respectively. I want their parliamentary colleagues who haven’t engaged with it as they have to be exposed to these ideas as well.
As I say in the book, it’s rare in British politics for MPs to be actively hostile to science — anti-science, if you like. It’s much more common, though, for them to be indifferent. Too few MPs have either much experience of science, or have really thought about how it should best be managed, or how the scientific approach to thinking might be brought to bear on policy challenges.
I don’t expect those MPs who read these books to agree with every word. But I do expect it to make them think, to ask themselves whether scientific thinking might be useful to them, whether it isn’t a tool that could contribute much more significantly than it currently does to public policy. I hope, too, that the very fact that a few hundred people have clubbed together to send the book out will make them realise that there are plenty of people out there who care deeply about the role of science in public life, and who would like to see politicians make more of an effort to include it.
It’s in politicians’ own interest to engage more in science. It’s up to us to make them realise that.
Simply sending a book to every MP won’t, of course, make any of them read it, let alone accept everything it has to say. But I’m glad we’re doing everything we can to give them the opportunity. Even if some of the MPs to whom the books are addressed don’t read them, I’d be happy if their researchers did. That would be another way of achieving our goal: exposing politicians to ideas they might otherwise not have encountered.
So thank you to everyone who’s already pledged to send a book. And please do encourage your friends and colleagues to pledge too.