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Stacked, maybe; shelved? Never!

TedNield024.jpgBy some odd coincidence of history, the answer to last month’s crossword clue at 26 Down was – ‘IDS’, the ‘Quiet Man’, former Tory leader and lately, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  He had not been quiet on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday 17 February.  Defending the Government’s ‘Back to Work’ Scheme, which was successfully challenged in court by Cat Reilly, a geology graduate of Birmingham University, he said: “The next time somebody goes in – those smart people who say there’s something wrong with this – they go into their supermarket and ask themselves...when they can’t find the food they want... who is more important?  Them, the geologist or the person who stacked the shelves”?  (The ‘this’, incidentally, meaning ‘being forced to work unpaid at Poundland’.)

Many of you took offence at IDS’s remark, and the Society responded with a statement pointing out that geologists were not ‘above’ shelf- stacking – indeed, without us not only would there be little food (fuel, fertilizers) but no shelves to stack, either.  A twitterfest of political knockabout ensued, as well as headlines about geologists ‘erupting’.  As the Society’s Head of Policy and External Relations Nic Bilham pointed out in a Guardian blog published off the back of the controversy, the Society responded not so much in anger, but because IDS’s remark might perpetuate a narrow idea of what geologists actually do.  And a gift opportunity to get that before the public should be seized with both hands.

Most of the Society’s political work isn’t nearly so much fun.  It issues serious, impartial advice, based on sound scientific knowledge, full of necessary caveats.  Fellows would expect no less (and no more).  But, as Bruce Yardley points out in Soapbox, all individuals – geologists not excluded – are proverbially entitled to lobby politically too, when moved to do so.  Such lobbying may be distinguished by its style:  for, as Adam Sedgwick once wrote: "He who asserts boldly and without doubt, will be sure of a school of followers."

As a Society, we hope that by dint of hard work we might, on occasion, persuade politicians to make a decision based on evidence, instead of doing the usual - namely following their political instinct and cherry-picking the evidence afterwards to make themselves look rational.  But the last thing we need fear is politicians won’t see us coming, wherever it might be from.  The unerring ability to detect an interest is one where the mental shelves are stacked well in politicians’ favour.

Ted Nield, Editor