Claire Skentelbery, Secretary General of the European Biotechnology Network

And the world turns

Well, that was a weight off my chest, better out than in, as they say. After Brexit, at least the world will be pulled back into its axis with the election of America’s first woman president and … wait a minute, what are you saying? No, that can’t be right … he won? Really? REALLY?

The news, as I write this, rounds off a bewildering year. The editor asked me to write another feisty piece, as apparently you unwashed mob out there quite like slightly naughty writing. And the results of the US election provide a perfect opportunity. However, I find myself unable to laugh or be angry about a farcical, ugly process, with a farcical, ugly result. Maybe it is because I wasn’t a voter so I don’t feel personally offended.

Bad trend

So, what do I feel? Sitting in the centre of the EU, a group of 27 (yes, I know the UK hasn’t left yet, but they got their coat and are standing by the door) countries that, for better or worse, richer or poorer, work together because that will bring you a better, more secure, long-term future.

I feel profoundly sad. Events this year appear to have made it acceptable to actively dislike and attack people because of their race, gender, intellectual capability, and any other factor that makes you think they are plotting to take food out of your mouth. Just as Brexit has seen a sustained increase in race-related violence in the UK, in the US, where people have been described as rapists and murderers for being Mexican, I wonder how many people will lose their lives for the crime of not fitting a rather narrow spectrum of acceptability.

It makes me even more glad that I am part of the European Union. Whatever its challenges, and there are many, it has fixed a target of things being better for its citizens, and that does not mean a tiny percentage, but all of them. Hence, better air, water, employment rights, unemployment rights etc., are applied for all people. When countries as diverse as Hungary, Greece, Germany, and France recognise this and pull (often reluctantly) together – that has to tell you something about the “rightness” of the long-term goal.

The US now has a profoundly anti-science government. Climate change, vaccine-linked autism, evolution … it is hard to even know where to start. These are all evidence-based positions accepted by the global science community, and they could be torn up if the extreme statements from the election trail are implemented. Science policy from Sarah Palin or Ben Carson? This will not just impact the US, as the EU and US have been working to align science delivery, and the danger is that this could be undone, to the cost of patients and healthcare. One can only hope that, in the bonfire of sanity that seems about to ignite, that they don’t set fire to scientific structures and relationships that have been so carefully constructed.

Signing off from Brussels.