Simon Singh on Evan Harris.

Simon Singh circulated the following message via his mailing list, regarding Dr Evan Harris, one of the newest members of our Editorial Advisory Board and MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.

Hello Everyone,

Apologies for the mass mailing, but you are receiving this email because you are either a scientist or a skeptic or someone connected with Oxford, or maybe all three. I am writing because you might be able to help British science by helping Evan Harris MP to retain his seat in parliament.

Along with Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Colin Blakemore, Lisa Appignanesi and many others, I am supporting the campaign to keep Dr Evan Harris in Parliament as a voice for science, secularism and free expression.

Evan has been the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West & Abingdon since May 1997 and he is the Lib Dem spokesman for science. But our support for him is not party political; and it goes beyond the interests of his constituency. Indeed, you can see further below a long list of the vital issues that Evan has championed.

Ordinarily, Evan should be safe at the election, but boundary changes and an aggressive campaign to unseat him mean that we might be about to lose science's best friend in Parliament.

How can you help?

If you are based in the Oxford West & Abingdon constituency then please consider voting for Evan. If you are not in that constituency, then please forward this email to anybody you know who might live in his constituency.

If you can help in other ways, then please contact Evan's team directly by emailing ikhanoxford [at] or visit

Why should you help?

Over the past 13 years, Evan has been a fearless spokesman for evidence-based policy-making, opposing religious privilege, and promoting freedom of expression. He has led many campaigns inside and outside parliament, including:

* reforming libel laws, which stifle academic free expression (Evan set up and heads the parliamentary wing of the libel reform coalition in Parliament which supported me in my successful defence against the British Chiropractic Association and which is helping press for law reform)

* promoting the necessity for liberal updated laws allowing stem cell research (Evan coordinated colleagues, scientists, clinicians and patient groups campaigning for the passage of the HFE Bill)

* abolishing the blasphemy law (Evan laid the amendments and built the coalition which forced the repeal)

* helping to expose the fraudulent research that led to the costly and damaging MMR/Autism myth (Evan was the most vocal MP defending the vaccine at the height of the media scare);

* repealing the laws of seditious libel and criminal defamation whose presence in our statute back gave cover for their use by oppressive regimes against writers and journalists abroad

* supporting scientists who do regulated and licensed medical research involving animals in the face of extremist intimidation (Evan was closely involved in the Pro-Test campaign supporting Oxford scientists);

* working with English PEN and Rowan Atkinson, to defeat the Government on their sweeping proposed religious hatred laws (Evan organised the campaign which led to that victory).

* defending the importance of independent scientific advice (Evan was first politician to defend the rights of expert science advisers following the dismissal of Professor David Nutt);

In all these campaigns Evan has worked on a cross-party basis, and by and large he has been successful. Many in the science community know him and hold him in very high regard.

Evan's constituency is marginal and he faces a strong challenge in the current General Election from the Conservative Party, which has been moving campaigning activity and substantial financial resources from neighbouring safe Conservative seats. There have been boundary changes and only a 7% swing would see Evan replaced by someone who does not share his commitment to science.

The task of holding the seat has been made more difficult by the delivery throughout the constituency, of a glossy leaflet attacking Evan for his pro-science and pro-choice record (view at This was paid for by a "Pro-life" group and will undoubtedly have done some damage.

Keith Mann, an animal rights extremist, who served three terms in prison for offences including possession of explosives, has not only made defamatory and inflammatory personal attacks ( on Evan distributed across the constituency but is even standing against him in the Election.

The next Parliament is likely to be a challenging one for science and an important one for issues to do with free expression and strong advocates there will be more important than ever. We believe that it is important for Evan's voice to continue to be heard.

Many Thanks,


May 1, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Skeptic News | 20 Comments »

20 Responses

  1. Ronnie D says:

    I agree with most of Evan’s positions. However, if he is to take a consistent scientific and fact based approach, then I assume he accepts Darwinism and the theory of evolution. Anyone who accepts Darwinism must also surely agree that, as humans, we are not simply the apex of creation with a “god-given” right to exploit animals for our own benefit. A true Darwinist must accept that rights are not solely determined by membership of a particular species; rather, they depend on the interests, level of awareness and capacity to suffer of the animals in question. Evan needs to liberate himself from the Judaeo-Christian dogma that god placed us in dominion over the animals, to be exploited as we see fit. Stop supporting cruel and unnecessary animal testing!

  2. Michael says:

    @ Ronnie D: The majority of animal testing is not cruel or unnecessary. And if you're trying to turn an 'is' to an 'ought' out of evolution surely the first stop is might makes right 😉

  3. Bill Hounslow says:

    The downside is that a vote for any Lib Dem is more likely to result in a Tory majority in a hung partlament, supported by Lib Dems.  Nick Clegg's background is almost the same as that of Cameron – aristocratic, public school, family interests in financial instituttions, etc.  Clegg has shifted his party to the right so it now resembles a centrist Conservative Party, rather than a Social Democratic centre-left Party.  In effect, the choice at this election is between two centre right parties and one centre left.  The only party representing ordinary working people and their families is Labour.  Vote Clegg, get Cameron.

  4. Mark says:

    @ Michael How have you formed your perception that "The majority of animal testing is not cruel or unnecessary"?

  5. ewan says:

    @bill hounslow – Oxford West is a Libdem/Tory marginal, anyone voting Labour there is simply splitting the leftish vote and making it more likely for the the evangelical christian tory to win. Labour stand no chance of getting elected in this seat.

  6. Bill Hounslow says:

    This is true in so far as a Labour vote MAY result in a Tory win, though enough Labour votes of course would win it for Labour.  However, my main points were that both the Lib Dems and the Tories are centre-right parties and Clegg is almost certain to support the Tories in a hung parliament anyway. Vote LibDem; get the Tories.
     Do we want a powerless MP who's views are ignored in favour of his upper class leader's consensus with the Tories?  In Oxford West and Abingdon, Labour offer the only alternative to a  centre-right government, whether LibLab/Tory coalition or outright Tory.  I remain to be convinced that a vote for LibDems would not be a wasted vote and the most effective way to stop the Tories.

  7. Bill Hounslow says:

    Oops! For LibLab read LibDem.  I'm showing my age now, :-)

  8. ewan says:

    The bottom line is that regardless of your views nationally Labour are not an alternative to anything in OxWAb; they're absolutely nowhere  electorally. The only two people with any chance are Evan Harris and Nicola Blackwood. Pick one – it shouldn't be a difficult choice.

  9. Suriel says:

    @ Bill Hounslow – This shows how much we need electoral reform. Elections should surely be about appointing the most appropriate candidate for the consituency concerned, but instead people are preoccupied with wasted votes and who they want as Prime Minister. The ability of a candidate to adequately represent his consituents has become virtually irrelevant and increasing numbers are choosing not to bother voting at all.

  10. Nadia says:

    @bill hounslow – do you honestly believe the LibDems are centre-right simply because Clegg has a priviliged background? That's pretty misguided. The LibDems are far from the right.

  11. Bill Hounslow says:

    No.  I think Clegg has shifted the LibDems to the right because of his background and in his own narrow class interests.  If you imagine the LibDems are left of centre perhaps you could remind me whch of their policies represent the interests of labour rather then the interests of capital.

  12. Jo says:

    I voted for Dr Harris while I lived in his constituency: he's a good constituency MP.  Surely that matters too?

  13. Oliver Dowding says:

    I note in your commentary. You say, "keep Dr Evan Harris in Parliament as a voice….free expression."
    I take it you're having a laugh. I've seen some of his performances, such as on the science and technology committee enquiry into homoeopathy on the NHS, and various allied performances, and they have all the hallmarks of a classic bully.
    Frankly, Dr Harris would be the very last person I'd vote for.

  14. michael says:

    if the torys win this election they will plunge the b ritish economy into rescesion and increase unemployment as they syphen funds away from the NHS and all other national funded parts of british society to try and fund their own lampooning of any potential new growth area that might come forth.
    The absurdity of how far the toungue of the labour party has been down the back of the USAs trousers  is as mind boggling as ever, suffice to say fixing the problem of political  desertion from the trenches by simply standing the rest of the country up for a good old fasioned machinegunning is only serving those who can afford to bu their way out of the economic war.
    A change is a-foot  in the world and that change is all about forcing business to once again serve the society about it instead of feeding off it while it rots under the weight of the comercial machine like sweeny todds soup kitchen for the largely unnoticed.
    global warming, international piracy, mineral and oil wars, extinction of species like the honey bee, massive rice crop losses starving millions… vote at your peril but more soo vote at the peril of the future of your children.

  15. Duncan says:

    @Bill – So you believe that the most effective way to fight the Tories is by making it more likely that a socially conservative, evangelical Conservative PPC will win? It might interest you to know that Evan was one of those in the LibDems who led the fight to keep our 2005 manifesto pledge to introduce a top rate 50% tax; if he kept his seat he'd be one of the voices within the party calling for us to cooperate with Labour or at least remain neutral. Nick has countless times throughout his career (before he was leader, when he was running for the leadership, now he is leader) that he is opposed to coalitions but would be willing to enter into a limited arrangement with anyone willing to accept our four main priorities which include the income tax threshold raise and introducing a PR voting system – do you see the Conservatives agreeing to either of those?
    The likely outcomes of this election are going to be
    (1) a Conservative majority, or coalition/confidence and supply agreement with the ulster unionists and/or the SNP.
    (2) a Labour minority government willing to put through liberal policies and maintained under a confidence and supply arrangement.
    (3) (if a miracle occurs) a LibDem majority.
    (4) Another election, either under FPTP or something else.
    The outcome you image in unforseeable and if you use your vote in a way which makes Evan less likely to win than had you voted for him because of some absurd notion that you have a better idea of what's going on in Cowley St than the other people on this blog you are making a fool of yourself.
    @Ronnie – Evan's position is simple; he supports science. We have a long standing manifesto pledge to be opposed to needlessly cruel or pointless animal experimentation, but Evan isn't in the business of second-guessing well-intentioned Oxford scientists as to whether or not their experimentation is pointlessly cruel which is one reason he is in the business of receiving occasional death threats from animal rights activists.

  16. Jimm says:

    Only an uncaring, profiteering bigot would think torturing non human animals is a great idea.  This harris freak is why I will never vote libdems.

  17. Jimm says:

    By Michael, Sunday, 2 May, 2010 @ 9:30
    @ Ronnie D: The majority of animal testing is not cruel or unnecessary.
    If that is so why don't you volunteer to be tortured to death to make some money for a corporation?  Don't fancy it?  Wonder why?

  18. Mark says:

    @Duncan: re. "Evan isn’t in the business of second-guessing well-intentioned Oxford scientists as to whether or not their experimentation is pointlessly cruel"

    There's a difference between electing not to second-guess scientists and actively supporting animal experimentation. Individuals, not least politicians, should develop their stance on the basis of informed reason rather than deference to any alleged authority as a default position.

    I similarly don't believe there is a practical distinction between "pointlessly cruel" and merely "cruel" experimentation.

    A cynical argument would suggest that opposing animal research at Oxford University and the Oxford Primate Research lab would  be at the cost of a considerable number of votes.

    I respect a number of Harris' views but on this topic he is wrong.

  19. Guy says:

    Evan Harris's own leaflets trumpet populist and evidence-free educational policies (eliminating tuition fees, reducing class sizes), and nearly convinced us to vote against him. Fortunately, we also received the religious anti-Harris leaflet, and so decided to vote for him in spite of his own campaign.