Scientists gagged until the people vote

The British system really does treat electors like idiots.

As well as banning statisticians from producing anything different that might help people make more intelligent use of their votes, this time round the powers-that-be have extended “purdah” to anybody who works for, or is funded by, a research council, thereby silencing another wodge of the UK intelligentsia for the duration of the campaign.
Scientists have been sent a lengthy description of what they can and cannot do, focussing mostly on the latter.
They are instructed not to make announcements or offer opportunities in a way that appears to favour one political party or candidate over another, to limit blogging or twittering, not to stage (or even discuss) important announcements that might compete for media attention, to delay large tenders, avoid comments that can be linked to the research council, and avoid saying anything that isn’t already in the public domain. 
In other words, to avoid using knowledge and expertise built up over the years in any way that might help inform the electorate better.
This is believed to be the first General Election in which purdah has been explicitly extended to scientists who work for research councils, are funded by them, or are subcontractors to them. It doesn’t apply to university researchers, unless they are in receipt of a research council grant, which many are.
So what about the 22 scientists who wrote a letter to The Independent on April 9 warning that the future of  sciewwnce in the UK depended upon re-electing a Labour Government? Weren’t any of them breaching the purdah code?
Among them were Dr Matthew Freeman and Dr Sean Munro, both at the MRC’s Molecular Biology Laboratory in Cambridge, Dr Stephen Keevil, who works for the NHS at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and Nigel Titchen, Vice-President of the Prospect Trade Union, who works as a research scientist at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. There may be others on the list who are grant-recipients, but it is more difficult to dig out that data.
All but one of the 22 signatories are members of Scientists for Labour, so their views are hardly a surprise. But it’s clear that under these rules, those listed above and probably several others broke purdah by coming out for Labour three days after the election was called. Are any sanctions planned? It seems unlikely. If any action were to be taken, Drs Freeman and Munro might argue that the MRC’s Royal Charter gives them “a duty to generate public awareness, communicate research outcomes, encourage public engagement and dialogue, and provide advice on scientific developments of significant impact to public health”.
The MRC's note to its research workers makes its position pretty clear. It says: “Avoid publishing any material that might influence public opinion for or against a political party”. But this advice didn’t go out until after The Independent letter appeared, and may indeed have been prompted by it.
The first suggestion that research council workers might be silenced came last year when John Denham, then Universities Secretary, said that it would be “appropriate” to impose purdah on scholars funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. “In practice the restriction on academic freedom is extremely limited as it only applies for a very short time” he wrote in a letter to Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West, according to Times Higher Education.
Howard Davies, Director of the London School of Economics, called it “ludicrous and unreasonable” to expect people to think whether or not some publication or speech could be interpreted politically. But other academics defended the Government position and the complaints fell on deaf ears. For this election purdah has been extended to other research councils. 
What has all this got to do with statistics? Not much, I admit, except to show that the restrictions imposed on their activities have been extended by a Government which apparently wants politicians to monopolise debate during the election. Nor have the opposition parties made any protest, it should be noted.