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For the record

"Fracking risk compared to thalidomide and asbestos in Walport report"? Image

"Fracking risk compared to thalidomide and asbestos in Walport report"?

Articles in the Guardian and The Independent say ‎that a report by the Government Chief Scientific Advisor (GCSA) Professor Mark Walport puts the risks from fracking "on a par with those from thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos." This isn't a reasonable representation of the chief scientist's report. At no point does it consider these risks as being on a par.

Though the headline and introduction of the Guardian article invites readers to conclude that the chief scientist has compared fracking with thalidomide, asbestos and tobacco, the article is in fact based on a chapter written by Professor Andy Stirling from the University of Sussex, in a supplementary publication that accompanies Professor Walport's report. As the introduction to this volume makes clear, "To help inform the report a number of papers representing a range of views were commissioned. These represent the authors’ personal views and are not those of the Government Office for Science."

The GCSA’s summary, from his report, is that we need to consider more than direct risks in deciding how to regulate new technologies: "each decision about the risks and benefits created by applications of a new innovation needs to be considered in the round. We usually focus on the risks of acting, but not acting is also a choice that may create its own risks. Equal attention needs to be paid to the consequences of inaction."

With regard to fracking specifically, the GCSA endorses the conclusions of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering report.

Update - 16 December 2014

The Guardian published a correction and a response from Professor Mark Walport which stated that the original article had "Selected one sentence from one evidence paper, quoted it in part, and in doing so misrepresented both the report and indeed the evidence paper itself." You can read Professor Walport's full response online.

Document type: For The Record

Published: 29 November 2014

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