NOTE: More on Fiona Fox, the Director of Britain's pro-GM Science Media Centre, and her LM colleagues. This is in the light of the recent news of Fox's involvement with the disgraced former Labour politician Jim Devine.

EXTRACT: "I often think 'there but for the grace of the RCP go I'. This secret thought is even present when I meet up with those mates who have dropped out of RCP politics. Slowly but surely they have lost their framework for understanding the world”¦ I do feel that being one of the few people in the world who can really understand imposes a certain burden and a definite isolation. But I also feel it is a great privilidge [sic] and quite frankly, if it is [sic] choice between carrying the burden of RCP politics or ending up like my old friend Carol there's no choice involved!" - Fiona Fox
Coincidence or Conspiracy?    
Andy Rowell
SpinWatch, 10 May 2007 [extract only]

...There is a network of ex-Revolutionary Communist Party / Living Marxism people concentrating on science-related issues, particularly those involving either genetics and/or the environment. It is very difficult to tell what their exact shared aims and objectives are but this degree of concentration and activity in such a specific area seems beyond the possibility of coincidence.

The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was a small extremist faction. Living Marxism, the RCP's monthly review which went on to become LM magazine, had only a small number of contributors, but RCP supporters/LM contributors not only turn up at Spiked / IOI, but hold the following positions:

SMC director: Fiona Fox
Sense About Science director: Tracey Brown
SAS's programme manager and Brown's deputy: Ellen Raphael
Scientific Alliance advisor: Bill Durodie
Genetic Interest Group [now former] policy director: John Gillott
Progress Educational Trust (former) director: Juliet Tizzard
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority policy manager: Juliet Tizzard
HFEA (former) director of communications: Anne Furedi
Wellcome Trust advisory group on Public Engagement with Science: Claire Fox

Fiona Fox has no science background. Tracey Brown's background is likewise almost entirely unconnected to her current post her previous specialty was sociology of law. Ellen Raphael also has a social science background. I think it is a legitimate question to ask what drew them all to the same highly specific area of activity.

While many people have contributed on occasion to an IOI event or Spiked debate, so do these three. For example, Fiona Fox appears on Spiked's website and is quoted in Spiked articles. She also appears at IOI events. Tracey Brown appears on the Spiked website and appears at IOI events. Ellen Raphael also appears on Spiked and is credited with helping at IOI events.

More importantly, all three contributed to LM, which was the forerunner to Spiked /IOI. LM's co-publisher, Claire Fox, launched the IOI on the day that LM folded; shortly afterwards, LM's ex-editor launched Spiked with LM's other co-publisher, Helene Guldberg, as managing editor.

This has been written about by a number of commentators including myself and George Monbiot in the Guardian. For example, in Monbiot's Guardian article, Invasion of the Entryists he wrote about Sense About Science

"The phone number for Sense About Science is shared by the 'publishing house' Global Futures. One of its two trustees is Phil Mullan, a former RCP activist and LM contributor who is listed as the registrant of Spiked magazine's website. The only publication on the Global Futures site is a paper by Frank Furedi, the godfather of the cult. The assistant director of Sense About Science, Ellen Raphael, is the contact person for Global Futures. The director of SAS, Tracey Brown, has written for both LM and Spiked and has published a book with the Institute of Ideas: all of them RCP spin-offs. Both Brown and Raphael studied under Frank Furedi at the University of Kent, before working for the PR firm Regester Larkin, which defends companies such as the biotech giants Aventis CropScience, Bayer and Pfizer against consumer and environmental campaigners. Brown’s address is shared by Adam Burgess, also a contributor to LM. LMs health writer, Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, is a trustee of both Global
Futures and Sense About Science".

And Science Media Centre

"SAS has set up a working party on peer review, which is chaired and hosted by the Royal Society. One of its members is Tony Gilland, who is science and society director at the Institute of Ideas, a contributor to both LM and Spiked and the joint author of the proposal Frank Furedi made to the supermarkets. Another is Fiona Fox, the sister of Claire Fox, who runs the Institute of Ideas. Fiona Fox was a frequent contributor to LM. One of her articles generated outrage among human rights campaigners by denying that there had been a genocide in Rwanda.

"Fiona Fox is also the director of the Science Media Centre..."

Other Monbiot articles have appeared on the LM network. I have written about the groups in the Guardian and PR Watch.

*  More on Fiona Fox.

In George Monbiot's article he credits much of the work exposing the LM network to the researcher, Jonathan Matthews. His profile of Fiona Fox is accessible through the LobbyWatch website .

In that, you will see she wrote a hugely controversial article playing down the genocide in Rwanda under her "pseudonym" Fiona Foster. The Guardian called this article a "bid to rewrite history in favour of the murderers". The Guardian also noted that the article was written by Fiona Fox under the Foster alias. A piece in the Guardian Diary later quoted Fox as admitting involvement in the article.

This article is far from an isolated example of Fiona's writing for the RCP. Indeed during a time in the 1990s she was one of the LM Magazine's most frequent contributors. It is also worth noting that although her public role in the group's activities was less than her sister's, her known contributions to the group's political activities were far more controversial.

For example, a document from 1997, under the headline "Contribution to OTAM" (which stands for On Tactics and Methods a discussion process within the RCP on its future), contains some interesting views. "Fiona Foster" writes about a friend, Carol, who was suffering from ME and is on anti-depressants.

She wrote: "There are plenty more like Carol ... I often think 'there but for the grace of the RCP go I'. This secret thought is even present when I meet up with those mates who have dropped out of RCP politics. Slowly but surely they have lost their framework for understanding the world”¦ I do feel that being one of the few people in the world who can really understand imposes a certain burden and a definite isolation. But I also feel it is a great privilidge [sic] and quite frankly, if it is [sic] choice between carrying the burden of RCP politics or ending up like my old friend Carol there's no choice involved!"

* Irish Freedom Movement Peace process in Ireland an "act of war"

Fox was also active in the Irish Freedom Movement (IFM - another RCP front) which was totally opposed to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland. In the OTAM document, Foster wrote about Ireland: "To the IFM remembering exactly what you were doing when the IRA ceasefire was announced has taken on Kennedy-type proportions. Knowing for too long that the republican movement was going to compromise with imperialism didn't seem to comfort in those first few weeks ”¦ Within weeks those of us who had really understood IFM politics were back on our feet, fighting against those who said that the ceasefire was a step forward, arguing that the peace process was an act of war, a victory for the British".

* She also said that Oxfam are a threat to world peace:

She also wrote that: "I stood on the streets of Covent Garden every Saturday for a year”¦I had some cracking arguments and I really believe that I sent some people away with something to think about, but in the end I just couldn't get people to accept that Western humanitarianism and Oxfam are a bigger threat to world peace than Iraq and the serbs".

At the time that she wrote that about Oxfam she was working for CAFOD.

These views are similar to other’s expressed by "Foster" in LM. In one, she interviewed Tommy McKearney, an Irish Republican jailed for the killing of a British soldier. A year later LM published a highly sympathetic profile of McKearney by "Foster".. It should also be noted that the RCP and the IFM never condemned any IRA atrocity even where it involved civilians.

I know that everyone has political views, and people's views change over time. I am not interested in some McCarthyite witch-hunt. The reason for quoting these examples is simply to raise the question as to why individuals known to have been involved in a small extreme group and who advocated "revolutionary" political activism have clustered in this science and society area. I do not pretend to know the answer.

In response to Monbiots piece in the Guardian, Furedi has argued that it is wrong to think there is some kind of "revolutionary cell" out there. Maybe it is. The article in which Furedi is quoted is the Times Higher. It continued:

"So why, asks Laurie Taylor, Times Higher columnist and visiting professor of politics and sociology at Birkbeck College, London, do all these former Trotskyists agree in detail on what appears to be in essence a right-wing platform and how can they call themselves academics if they appear to deny independent thought? You might have expected them to travel in a variety of directions after the collapse of their revolutionary dream in the Nineties, but many peddle similar lines"=".

Another question to raise is why has this happened? Richard D. North, with whom I publicly disagree on many issues, has argued that "London's scientific and cultural Establishments”¦ were so glad of the energy and intelligence of these new arrivals - and their capacity to field numbers of highly-motivated young people - that they overlooked the possibility that the group had an agenda which was unpalatable."

* From Bosnia to biotech

This same kind of repositioning has occurred elsewhere in their network. The RCP established a parallel group in Germany which produced a sister publication to LM, called Novo. When the RCP were opposing intervention in Bosnia and denying Serb atrocities, Novo's editor, Thomas Deichmann, "reinvented himself as a fully-fledged Bosnia expert", in the words of the Guardian. Deichmann gave evidence for the defence in the trial of a Serbian war criminal at The Hague and also wrote a lead article for LM attacking ITN's journalists over their Bosnia coverage. It was this article that led to LM’s demise in the ensuing libel action.

Post-LM, Novo is still going strong and now works in tandem with Spiked and IOI see, for instance, a recent Battle of Ideas event. But as issues like Serbia, Rwanda and Ireland have faded into the political background, Deichmann has reinvented himself. He has become an expert on biotechnology. To that end, he has co-authored a book on biotechnology, Das Populäre Lexikon der Gentechnik, and has contributed articles to Novo and Spiked. He also contributed to the IOI's Genes and Society Festival.

* Bias

 I quite deliberately did not label the SMC or SAS as climate sceptic organisations. This said, people have asked me why such a pro-science organisation as the SMC has done so little on climate, given that it is emerging as quite possibly the most important scientific issue of our time. Climate change is also one where there is massive anti-science lobbying, much of which is ending up in publications like the Mail, the Telegraph and the Spectator. Yet, if my memory serves me correctly, of the 120 odd press releases the SMC has issued and which are on its website only about four have been on climate. This compares to over 40 on issues to do with genetics and roughly another dozen each on animals in research and GM crops.

I also think there is evidence that the SMC is failing in the mission it has set itself. In its consultation report it says: "the Centre will be free of any particular agenda within science and will always strive to promote a broad spectrum of scientific opinion especially where there are clear divisions within science".

As well as, "the SMC will provide access to the wide spectrum of scientific opinion on any one issue. We can provide an anti-GM scientist and a pro- GM scientist, a pro-legalisation of cannabis scientist and an anti-, etc, etc".

But on the exact issue it quotes, GM, it is difficult to see much evidence of the SMC promoting or providing such a spectrum. The views of scientists critical of GM are all but absent, whereas pro-GM scientists are routinely quoted. The SMC also includes quotes from the Chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) - a corporate lobby group for the biotech industry. Its chairman is clearly neither an eminent nor an independent scientist.

The independence of others whose views the SMC has promoted is also open to question. Some of the pro-GM scientists quoted could be regarded as campaigners or lobbyists on the issue, eg Anthony Trewavas and Vivian Moses, who are both on the Scientific Advisory Forum of the Scientific Alliance. Vivian Moses is also the Chairman of Cropgen an organization funded by industry and which has a "mission to make the case for GM crops and foods." Moses is quoted more than once in SMC media briefings. In once case as the Chairman of Cropgen, but in another purely as "Visiting Professor of Biology at University College London" without any mention of the fact that he is the head of a pro-GM lobby group.

The SMC's consultation document also states: "The following is a list of the kind of events the Centre has been approached to host all of which the staff are happy to accommodate ”¦ the press launch of ABC the new public information campaign on GM foods set up by the European biotechnology companies". I think most people would assume that any organization that hosts the launch of a corporate front organisation for the biotech industry is also pro-GM.

The SMC has used a media briefing to attack a report by GeneWatch UK, an organization that has raised legitimate concerns over GM and cloning and whose former director, Dr Sue Mayer sat on the government-appointed Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.  Included in the SMC's "responses from the scientific community" are quotes from representatives of several pressure groups as well as the CEO of a private company - Ardana Bioscience Ltd.

This is not a one off. For instance, in a press release on therapeutic cloning licences some of the quotes are either from pro-biogenetics campaign groups or industry, including the BioIndustry Association. Two of the people quoted: John Gillot of the Genetic Interest Group and Juliet Tizzard, then of the Progress Educational Trust, are also part of the same RCP/LM network as Fox (see above).