The Trust has no defined mission, other than to support charitable causes, but one could perhaps join together many of the various projects we have supported as promoting truth and justice, or more prosaically, a rational scientific ethos; the unbiased interpretation of evidence; and access to justice.
The Trust supports core scientific research, such as the new physics laboratory and a chair in biophysics at Oxford, and research with more obvious applications, such as a project at Kings College London to try to help people struggling to free themselves from addictions to sleep better, which could greatly improve their chances of success.
The Trust has taken a particular interest in supporting and promoting new knowledge in areas that other organisations find difficult to support in spite of their obvious scientific promise. For example, the Trust supports the work of scientists at Imperial College who are exploring the potential medicinal uses of several banned drugs to treat terrible psychiatric disorders. Research to understand the effects of such drugs has been prohibited for many decades, and is still heavily restricted, making the work very costly and slow, and also taboo for many traditional research funds. Meanwhile millions of people are taking these substances illegally with little understanding of their effects.
The Trust also indirectly supports new independent press regulators that are recognised as complying with the criteria proposed by Lord Justice Leveson rules and incorporated in the Royal Charter on the Self Regulation of the Press. The Royal Charter establishes standards for independent press regulation to help insure that information published in the press is accurate and lawful, and that those with complaints have proper access to justice.
Without the Royal Charter, and the legal mechanisms to encourage media outlets to join regulators which comply with the Royal Charter, those subject to false and intrusive publications can find themselves with nowhere to go, because they know that by taking legal action they expose themselves to enormous costs risks. Under the Royal Charter, amongst other requirements, a news publisher must provide a low-cost arbitration service so that people can challenge them without being ruined. This also protects news publishers who publish things that very wealthy people or organisations would rather they did not, because it prevents those very rich people from being able to threaten a newspaper with legal actions, which even when the newspaper wins can be ruinously expensive.
The Trust supports the Centre for Forensic Science at UCL, which aims to ensure that people in all stages of the criminal justice process, and ultimately juries, are given a fair account of what can be inferred from the forensic evidence before them, which is often highly technical and well beyond what people can be expected to divine through common sense. Unqualified people should not be made to decide between two experts who have been selected for their differing interpretations without careful standards that prevent poor quality science. It puts them in an impossible position where they are vulnerable to all kinds of bamboozling and manipulation. And yet in the UK, those standards have been falling steeply as budgets have been cut for the institutions that uphold them.*
Meanwhile, the technical capacity for detecting and analysing minute particles has raced ahead of the understanding of how such particles behave, and because there are billions of them, the speed and distance they can spread is often quite unexpected.
Juries rely on common sense, but when confronted with highly technical information, our common sense relies on trust in a process that makes plain the statistical claims and helps us to understand the basis for disagreement among experts. Without that trust in an impartial process for evaluating technical information, we default to our instincts, which we can’t rely on because they are shortcuts that evolved for a long gone way of life.
This seems to fit into a pattern of the problems that societies are facing in the 21st Century. The challenge of making statistical claims intelligible and fair is not a new one. The quotation “Lies, damned lies and statistics” is sometimes attributed to Disraeli. But we now have so much more information available to us that interpreting it and weighing the relative signals we find within it has become our biggest challenge. With the amount of data available, it becomes possible by being selective to find evidence for almost anything, and it can require a quite advanced understanding of statistics to see the flaws in a methodology.
The Trust also supports projects to diversify the media, and bring marginalised people into the industry, such as the Children’s Radio Foundation, which works in several African countries to train young people as radio broadcasters.
In the 21st Century, information is power, and those who control its flow are enormously powerful. With far more information than ever before available, it has become critically important to establish independent arbiters who are specifically incentivised only to get closer to the truth.