Brexit “democracy needs experts”

Given that our Corium Club alumni are all scientists to a greater or lesser degree many who read this will also be reading this week’s editorial in the New Scientist. If not it is worth buying the magazine for.

The point it makes is short and simple: “democracy needs experts”. This comes from the fact that a senior UK Cabinet Minister told Sky News during the recent Referendum campaign “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts” as a response to a question about expert warnings on the economy should there be a vote to exit the EU.

As a marketing person I have to say that both campaigns were dreadful. As the NS says ‘the willingness to bend, ignore or invent facts was depressing and shameful. Both sides were up to it, but Leave told the biggest whoppers”.  Yet it is the denigration of experts, a standard ploy in populist campaigns, that must worry us here.

The leather industry suffers badly from the careless use of terminology. We are not just riddled with greenwash, largely of our own making, but all types of language about leather making is just far to loose and undefined.The term “heavy metal” is one. It has never been defined by any authoritative body such as IUPAC. Over the 60 years or so in which it has been used in chemistry, it has been given such a wide range of meanings by different authors that it is effectively meaningless. No relationship can be found between density (specific gravity) and any of the various physicochemical concepts that have been used to define “heavy metals” and the toxicity or ecotoxicity attributed to “heavy metals”. Consequently the Centre of Toxicology tells us to abandon the classification of metals using terms such as “heavy metals”, which have no sound scientific or terminological basis.

So many of the things written about leather, good or bad, fall into that category of careless talk and this carelessness is in part the reason why we have made the fight against calling plastics “synthetic” leather so hard. Arguments about carbon foot prints, the wickedness of cows, the toxicity of chrome, the amounts of waste and so many other areas of leather production are loaded with scientific inaccuracies. No wonder that people can get away with still promoting ridiculous falsehoods such as that tanners use arsenic.

emotion trumps reason”

Another point the NS makes is that facts are not always enough, we also need to inject some belief and emotion, because at the end of the day “emotion trumps reason”.

I know we have some alumni who supported the UK leaving the EU, but I was not amongst them. My student days learning leather were heavily punctuated with student politics and i later supported our Prime Minister Ted Heath when he battled to get the UK into the then EEC. I have always supported the EU as a strategic entity more than just a trade club and I am heartbroken by this outcome. During my career I have lived and worked in Italy, France and the Netherlands and strongly believe my children and grandchildren would benefit from borders open to the movement of capital, goods, services and people.

While I cannot pretend to speak for the University I do feel that we will all have to invigorate our support for the ICLT at this time. Student numbers from the EU countries appeared to have been rising and as the industry makes a modest, but significant return from overseas EU demand is likely to grow further. We must all fight to ensure that Northampton can continue to serve this group, and that all the associated links for travel and research remain in place.

We have all worked closely for many decades and we have alumni spread throughout the EU as well as the rest of the world.  While the vote inevitably has changed the atmosphere the reality is that practically nothing will change for at least two years and with luck new agreements will come into place to go beyond that.

Keeping it all together is something to get emotional about.

Mike Redwood
30th June 2016