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Reith Lectures 2010 - lecture four: The Runaway World

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick 08:20, Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Reith Mosaic

The 2010 Reith Lectures are now at an end. Four lectures with a science theme by Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society Professor Martin Rees. And for each lecture we organised a live chat here on the Radio 4 blog. Across the four lectures, thousands of people joined in - contributing to the discussion or reading it after transmission.

If you joined in or if you read the discussion while listening to the programmes, we'd be thrilled if you'd take a minute to leave a comment here on the blog: would you like to see more live interaction like this around Radio 4 programmes? Does live conversation of this kind enhance the experience for you? Or does it make it harder to enjoy the programme? And, if you think it works, which programmes should we try it with next? Live discussion, documentaries, drama? Please leave a comment below. Your feedback will help us design more interactive activity for future programmes.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the Radio 4 blogs

  • Visit the Reith web site to listen to all of the previous lectures and to many from the archive.
  • Get the Reith lectures podcast here - you can download the lectures to listen to on your computer or MP3 player. It's free and you can keep them forever.
  • The picture shows a mosaic of pics from the recording of the third lecture, in the Royal Society's lecture theatre.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Martin Rees doesn't appear to have been paying attention to climate change. His idea seems to be that we will continue to 'progress' through science, finding out all manner of wonderful discoveries, ignoring the overpopulation and resources depletion we have caused. We may have just about figured out what we did by the time we become extinct.
    Scientists, as well as others, can suffer from tunnel vision, not seeing the whole picture, focused on their particular specialism, and perhaps being aware of a few other specialism. So the message is more of the same, forever progress to ever more technological fixes, and ever more scientific toys to keep us amused and feeling special.
    As an after-dinner speaker I'm sure he's entertaining, but I fnd this kind of thing utterly irrelevent to the problems we face today, and more importantly, the problems the planet and all its myriad species have with the arrogant, self-obsessed naked ape.

  • Comment number 2.

    Over the last 15 years, Information Technology and computer technology in general has led to millions of well paid job losses, jobs that now pay 2/3rds of what they paid even 5 years ago and allows the rich to concentrate more of the money into an ever smaller group of people.

    But we are not allowed to hear any of this. We have to read between the lines and eek it out of the media, politicons and business. For example, we are told that the top 20% of the richest have had 400-800% increases in income in the last decade, and yet the average wage of around £25,000 has stayed exactly the same. Statistically, this is not possible, and I believe the average wage to now be closer to £18,000 and will continue to go down.

    Technology has also allowed, in less than 20 years, for a 'global market' to be created. This technology has allowed China and India to to moving from second world to first world status. At the same time, with so much UK money moving into a smaller and smaller group of super rich and the rest moving out to China India and other Far East countries. Within 20 years I.T will turn the UK into a country with the wealth of a Portugal or Mexico. There may be social unrest due to this.

    Don't believe technology destroys jobs? Just go into your local supermarket and see the growth in 'automatic checkouts'. Due to the internet, supermarkets are also able to offer home ordering and home delivery. There is a lot of marketing behind this service as home delivery is much more profitable for the supermarkets. Within 10 years half of all supermarket shopping will be home internet shopping, yet for every 10 staff required in a retail store, only 3 are needed for an only business. Should supermarkets succeed in getting us all do get our grocery shopping through the internet, the businesses will be able to get rid of over 800,000 jobs!

    Due to the internet and computer/I.T. technology, we will have a permanent 20% unemployed, and over 80% of the workforce will be earning less than £20,000 a year. This is going to affect the housing market, the car industry, the holiday industry and much more, causing more layoffs.

    Mark my words, I have worked in I.T for over 20 years. When I started as a trainee computer operator in the 80's my first wage was £18,000 a year. Today, a university graduate, starting as a trainee computer operator will start on £16,000. A secretary 25 years ago, with a typewriter earned the equivalent of £20,000 in today's money, today in her place, we have an 'administrator' working at a PC, on £14-16,000 a year. Across the board I.T technology and the internet have drove down wages and destroyed good paying jobs. This trend will speed up as new technologies come along.

    This high-minded lecturer is living in cloud cookoo land!

  • Comment number 3.

    The Reith lectures remind me of the film 'Longitude'. Science is still about power, control and manipulation of the truth. I went into science because I enjoy solving problems and finding out the truth. But the science that the public gets to hear is what a few in authority wish the public to hear. A lot of published science is either denied or ignored and not communicated to the public. I hope the next 50 years in science move away from Lord Reith's and the BBC's control over information and opens up into a free discussion where the public are fully informed and thus can engage in discussions about whether what is possible, is desirable.

  • Comment number 4.

    Quote 'In the second half of this century the intellectual base is going to be in SE Asia'... good grief, by 2050 the main preoccupation will be survival. Why are so many willfully ignoring the writing on the wall? The assumption is that climate change is a little problem we have to fix 'for our children's children' and then it's onwards to the stars. Utter fantasising nonsense, small, vulnerable apes will never get to the stars, we will perish in a ruined landscape incapable of sustaining our exploding numbers. Billions will starve or drown depending on where they live. We will watch it and chatter about it as it all comes apart, with this degree of myopia still prevalent.
    The human world population in so interlinked now that when it starts to come apart all will be affected. This has been demonstrated by the global economy and will be more so with food and water supply. These middle-class, comfortable, self satisfied non-thinkers have inflated ideas of their intelligence and awareness and no understanding that the environmental threats are beyond our actions to reverse or even cope with. Irrelevent.

  • Comment number 5.

    3. Isn't this a free discussion? ;-)

  • Comment number 6.

    If we carry on developing new technologies without fully investigating their impact on human health or the environment, then the human population is likely to decline significantly. This is great news for climate change. It just isn't so good if the ones affected are your family or friends. Mobile phones alone are likely to kill off a significant proportion of the population. I know this isn't the view of the BBC or anyone with an interest in the communications industry, but it is the view supported by a large chunk of the published science. If the public really knew the science, they would be making different lifestyle choices (maybe not everyone, but a large proportion would). Personally I don't use a moblie phone, and I'm getting my carbon footprint down as low as I can :-)

  • Comment number 7.

    6. How would this mobile phone apocalypse come about? :D
    Might make good Sci-Fi comedy!

  • Comment number 8.

    Technology doesn't steal jobs, it changes them.
    Whenever technology is introduced that makes some jobs redundant, it also opens up a slew of other jobs involved in maintaining that technology.

    Seriously, worried about losing your job to a computer? Learn a programming language. Then your job can be to instruct all of these computers what to do. If you can't be bothered, then that's why you don't deserve employment.

    Web Developer has been one of the most "in-demand" jobs around the world of the past decade. Database Administrator is closely related.



    As for Population vs. Resources, I don't understand the "over population" argument. We need better solutions, and not more restrictions. There is only two things we really need for the future: "Free" Energy, and mastery of Energy/Matter conversion.

    We should seek colonisation of other worlds, rather than curb population growth.

  • Comment number 9.

    #2. Name one thing that China or India has invented since WW2 ?

    Kind of defeats your argument doesn't it.

    This is precisely why science is so important to the UK. We need to invent and patent the discoveries and make our money licencing the tech because we'll never be able to compete with the lower labour costs and poorer working conditions of china and india etc to actually build the stuff.

    What is not helpful is stuff from people who probably wear tin foil helmets like poster #6 "Mobile phones alone are likely to kill off a significant proportion of the population." who is typing this nonsense on a PC who's processor chip is probably running at around 2.4Ghz (which is microwave frequency) and almost certainly using a wireless link that will be broadcasting easily as much electromagnetic radiation as a mobile.

    Because rather than "If we carry on developing new technologies without fully investigating their impact on human health or the environment, then the human population is likely to decline significantly" its only technology that will save us. Its because of BRITISH scientists pioneering antibiotics, antiseptics, vaccination and proving the link between dirty water and disease that we live so long (the geniuses of the industrial then green revolution massively increasing our food supply did rather a nice job too) I'm working on a cure for advanced skin cancer.... if it works it'll bring a lot of money to the UK (sadly I won't get any of it) and save life, not cause 'armageddon'. Its precisely because luddites get to oppose anything new that we're running out of drinking water and will be suffering power cuts in ten years time.

  • Comment number 10.

    "1. At 09:24am on 22 Jun 2010, DoctorDolots wrote:

    Martin Rees doesn't appear to have been paying attention to climate change. His idea seems to be that we will continue to 'progress' through science, finding out all manner of wonderful discoveries, ignoring the overpopulation and resources depletion we have caused. We may have just about figured out what we did by the time we become extinct.
    Scientists, as well as others, can suffer from tunnel vision, not seeing the whole picture, focused on their particular specialism, and perhaps being aware of a few other specialism. So the message is more of the same, forever progress to ever more technological fixes, and ever more scientific toys to keep us amused and feeling special.
    As an after-dinner speaker I'm sure he's entertaining, but I fnd this kind of thing utterly irrelevent to the problems we face today, and more importantly, the problems the planet and all its myriad species have with the arrogant, self-obsessed naked ape. "

    This is yet another example of the complete and utter misunderstanding of scientific research that has plagued British scientists in the last few years, particularly when dogmatic scientific laymen like government ministers have got their hands on funding.

    (1) I am a doctor of biochemistry. Just the field that I work is is unimaginably huge and complex, and there are hundreds of different fields in Biochemistry alone. Questions have become more intricate and more complex, this is no longer an issue of "what is inside that blob we call the cell nucleus and what does it do". Of course people have to focus down into selective fields, as this is the ONLY way we can progress.

    (2) The vast majority of world changing discoveries have been the "accidental" products of blue-sky research. I can cite the cell cycle and therefore an understanding of what cancer actually is (cyclins - Found accidently by Tim Hunt's project student. He saw a band appearing and disappearing on his gel when investigating sea urchin development), Penicillin, of course we all know the story etc etc I can go on all day.

    (3) Ring-fenced research is an idiocy, if you set out to find something, chances are you won't in a hurry, and you are missing out by not investigating all of the other blue sky discoveries on the way. Moreover, scientists themselves become blinkered and lack training and understanding of other processes. To be plain and simple, science tends to discover itself, you just have to have people like us looking, if you try to force the issue, the result is disasterous and detrimental to science.

    Scientific research is something the British really excel it. However funding has diminished hugely in the last few years (including those preceding the credit crunch) I have seen hundreds of my colleagues forced out by huge funding cuts by the dogmatic anti-science Labour government, as well as disasterously clumsy attempts to ringfence research to specific institutes (which also has the effect of taking training of students in research away from universities - the traditional seats of progress for centuries, that are now being stripped of funding in an ill advised and terribly thought out process).

    This is all disasterous for our heritage, the training of future students, our scientific standing in the World, and retaining the great scientific minds that this country produces, given the chance.

    Sadly, and with respect, it is outspoken and ill-advised opinions like yours that get heeded these days, and this is a terrible shame.

  • Comment number 11.

    7. They cause brain tumours. Haven't you heard either? Think microwave ovens, same technology, only you're holding it to your head. Ever noticed your ear getting hot? It's being microwaved as is your brain. Already heavy users have been dieing from brain tumours, but the effects take years, so the present population of teens who've had then since childhood and are totally addicted to them ... ? Some comedy huh?
    9. We aren't running out of drinking water in the UK, are you Australian? The reason Australia is running out of water is that they have been draining the massive underground aquefer and IT is running out. It'll be back to the bush or emigrate one day soon. Have you considered where all these saved human lives are going to find food, where they will live, will they all drive cars too? Yes, all those discoveries helped lift hominids out of the survival of the fittest race of evolution, and now our species is dependent on science, drugs and mechanised farming for our very existance. And still we i8ncrease as other species decline. What you gonna do when the planet is covered with humans but there's nothing else? Ah, right, we embark en masse for the stars, of course! Find another green planet like Earth and trash that too. Deja vu.

  • Comment number 12.

    Today ir is reported that pollinating insects, bess, bumble bees etc are in dangerous decline. If this is not rectified there will be catastrophic effects on the production of food.

    A case for the scientists I think.

  • Comment number 13.

    #11. The North West of England has reservoirs at 40% of capacity. They just opened a desalination plant in London last week. Our drinking water supplies are not looking good and its because of a total failure to invest in new infastructure. We could easily build more desalination plants, pipelines to take water from one part of the country to another and make new reservoirs but you can barely put up a garden shed any more without someone delaying the build by 20 years for 'enviromental' reasons.

    As to your objections about science prolonging life do you practice what you preach? I bet you've had a full set of vaccinations, take antibiotics when you have infections and would expect chemo, radiotherapy and surgery if you were ever unlucky enough to develop a tumour.

  • Comment number 14.

    10. I'm not anti-science. Because I criticise short-sighted people like Rees pratting on about the stars doesn't mean I am anti-science. Science has discovered much, and part of it is that we have blown it. My argument is with those who, immersed in their select discipline, have no understanding of the big picture to the point where they can lecture us on the future where all they see is a long line of 'progress'; without pain of course.
    The arrogant assumption that 'our civilisation' is so much superior to all previous ones that it will never, can never, end, that we will go on and on forever discovering more and inventing more, is a myth. Our culture will fail just like all the others did; many of them from environmental degradation. The forests eventually grow back over the ruined temples given time. Our problems now are much more than any others have faced, they are global, there's nowhere left to discover and move to, the whole planet is affected. To think that we can continue on this techno path forever is unimaginative to say the least. It defies reason. And I'm ill-advised? Excuse me? You appear to have a little-Englander view. Perhaps youshould get out more from your lab and study the world.

  • Comment number 15.

    #12 Easy. GM crops that a engineered pest resistant and don't need soaking in insecticide will be far kinder to polinating insects that current mechanised farming.

    Just convince the enviromentalists of that.

    Regarding one way in which tech will keep us feed check out 'Thanet Earth'
    http://www.thanetearth.com/

  • Comment number 16.

    #14. I'm Scottish, not 'little Englander' . My job is designing therapies to skin cancer. I'm pretty good at it. I am not paid to design hydrogen fuel cells or save trees. The idea that attempting to find solutions to our problems is 'unimaginative' is irony beyond belief. Whats you solution? Do nothing? Return to living in caves? How is that 'imaginative'?

    I presume you DO use antibiotics, vaccines etc as you didn't respond to that point too.

  • Comment number 17.

    13. Peter_Sym
    London is unsustainable as are all mega cities, they suck resources from the rest of the country to create 'wealth' so some can amass it and feel superior for having more coconuts than all the other apes.

    As for your question; I had vaccinations when a child of course as did everyone, though fewer than children nowadays as many diseases were accepted as part of life and our immune systems coped with them and we got better. Now we appear to be even more fearful of disease, while sheltering children from coming into contact with 'germs' and their immune systems are barely working as a result. No I don't take antibiotics as I don't get infections since I have a robust immune system kept at peak performace by daily echinacea capsules, and echinacea is a plant, whose medicinal properties have been known for thousands of years, not discovered by science. I would certainly not expect chemo, radiotherapy and surgery, have never and will never. If I get a tumour I will deal with it myself, or die trying. Not being afraid of death - it's part of life, there would be no life without death - I have no intention of making myself a guinea pig for doctor-gods to practice on and try out their latest chemcal wonders. When my natural time comes, that will be the end of this one insignificant life. And I won't be praying to some imaginary god father figure either. It's fear of death that fuels both religion's fake reassurances and science's searching for 'cures'. One day the Earth will discover a cure for hominids and rid itself of us.

    By the way, you don't have to quote the whole of someone's post, just refer to it, we can all scroll back if need be ;-)

  • Comment number 18.

    12. Lynn from Sussex
    Yes, this has been known about for some years and beekeepers are very worried both from a personal point of view, but also because they, unlike the majority of people who think food just comes in bags in a shop, know that much of our food has to be fertilised by bees. That bees are under threat at all should be a wake up call that something is seriously wrong, but you won't find the media paying much attention to it when they have self-promoting political animals and their ludicrous promises to obsess over.

  • Comment number 19.

    Science and the quest for truth has been a passion that has transfigured life on planet earth in more ways than one. While a sauna bath could be an example of the contribution of science, the most significant contribution of science has been to the conduct of war and conquest. Every civilization that has dominated the world through the centuries has done so because of some breakthrough in science that allowed it to pulverize the enemy fighting with earlier technology. The dominance of man over man, abetted by science, suggests that if science has to be anything but a tool in the hands of power hungry people, driven by primordial instincts that are as old as the origins of mankind, then the option of using science to serve alternative ends boils down to a revamp on how our society is organized and how people view success and achievement.

    Easier said than done, a revamp of the social order and the basic psychology of human beings can happen only in a progressive manner, primarily through education and equal opportunity that discriminates against none. We have seen attempts to achieve this, particularly in the modern era, but we have also learnt that it is an impossible goal to achieve in a world driven by greed and consumerism where, in fact, all scientific research is funded by governments and institutions, solely for profit and furthering world dominance.

    The question we need to ask is can we turn the tables on the way science has traditionally been used and break the institutional shackles in which it currently finds itself?

    Can science, for example, be a "weapon", not in the hands of state power, but something that actually achieves the transformation of society to a more equitable world, free of the mechanisms of state and politics? To start with it appears difficult to countenance such a thought. What about particle accelerators, supercomputers and the like, which all cost money and are controlled by the state? Can the science that promotes equity and freedom do without these contraptions; can it circumvent the need for them?

    The answer, of course, is we can! Nature is the only lab we need. The greatest scientific breakthroughs were achieved by people working in candle light in the isolation of a monastery. There is strong evidence that the institutionalisation of science has stifled it. Nobel Prizes are now a ritual that rewards mediocrity and reflects the dilemma of institutional scientific research.

    The people who in earlier days looked at the heavens with naked eyes and charted the movements of the planets were more innovative than research workers of today struggling to understand the same planetary movements using precision equipment only to find that our forefathers had done their work so well that it cannot be bettered!

  • Comment number 20.

    15. Peter_Sym
    With that one post you have typified the ignorance about GM that has been spread by the GM companies and swallowed whole by the naive.

    GM crops are not aimed at being pest resistant but pesticide and herbicide resistant, so the companies that develop them, who also sell pesticides and herbicides, can sell even more pesticide and herbicides and make MORE PROFITS. They are tailored for specific pesticides and herbicides, and farmers can't even grow and save their own seed but must continue to buy it from the GM companies who have waged a campaign of lies for decades. You have swallowed it.

    Why is it that people arguing for more and more unsustainable technologies to keep us alive always put as the alternative living in caves? Pretty unimaginative since there have been many cultures in history which were sustainable, planet and environment friendly and which were in many case wiped out by the white man with his 'superior' ways and weapons.

    Little Englander is just an expression of narrow viewpoint, of what's happening in a small country, nothing ethnic you understand. Though not a Scot, I live in Scotland, but I think globally. And I think you were presumptuous to assume I hadn't answered your accusation, you are obviously an impatient person.


  • Comment number 21.

    #17- actually for most of us our immune systems didn't cope. We died like flies. Ever heard the stat that average live expectancy used to be 40? That means for every adult who had a full life one died in infancy. Smallpox, polio, spanish flu used to wipe out whole famillies. Even my grandparents lost 2 or 3 siblings each to diseases that are almost extinct now.

    Echinancea is indeed a plant. Plants supply most of our therapies including digitalis for heart conditions (foxglove), morphine for pain (poppy) and tamoxofen for breast cancer (extract of pacific yew tree). Even aspirin is just a synthetic copy of a chemical from willow bark. It scientists discover the properties of these substances, purify them and make them into a useable pharmaceutical. You take an extract of echinacea in a capsule.... you don't eat the whole plant do you?

    London has been around for 2000 years and survived flood, plague, fire and war. I'm sure it'll outlast me. All it takes is a little of the imagination you accuse us of lacking: take your Australian case. You reckon when the aquifer runs out they'll have to die or leave. I reckon as they have a population just twice that of Scotlands and live on the coast they'll just use some of the Uranium in their rocks or the sun on the desert to generate the power for desalination plants to extract drinkable water from the sea. A big pipe running from the drier southern cities up to Darwin (which has a tropical climate and all the rain you'd ever want) would help too. If we can pipe oil halfway across the Arabian penninsula or across Russia we can do it with drinking water.

    While I am certain that eventually our technology will start reaching its limits as decreed by the basic laws of physics we're no where near there yet with most tech. I'm somewhat concerned that antibiotics are losing ground to the bacteria but we aren't only limited to antibiotics to combat bacteria. We've barely investigated the phage approach the soviets used to use and god knows what some nano-tech expert can come up with.... tiny MRSA hunting robots?

    By the way I don't think I've quoted the whole of someone's post at all on this blog just a couple of sentences.

  • Comment number 22.

    #20 Some GM crops are designed that way. What do you expect from big business? Charity? The decisions of the businessmen who own the companies are not those of the scientists. As a student I had a strip torn off me for embarrissing the chairman of Monsanto when he lectured us (his figures were incorrect).

    Did you see 'countryfile' on BBC1 on Sunday? They were reporting on a trial of a GM edible potato that had a resistance gene from a wild potato protecting it against the late blight that caused the potato famine in Ireland.

    I don't know where you get the idea that I 'fail to act globally'. See my first post about the outsourcing of manufacturing to China and India. Rather than take the BNP view of build a big wall around Britain I accept that the developing world can build cheaper and suggest ways to keep us in jobs. The fact that I develop skin cancer vaccines should also suggest to you I have a global outlook. Which nations have the most skin cancer patients? Its not Scotland is it?

  • Comment number 23.

    I think it was Karl Popper who said that scientific progress was an intrinsic good i.e. one which should be achieved for its own sake, rather than purely for the benefits it produces. I wholeheartedly agree with this, but this is not to underplay the massive benefits which scientific research has given humanity over the last 4,500 or so years.

    None of the problems humanity has faced or faces now are solved by abandoning the quest for knowledge. Increased food supply, elimination of diseases like smallpox, improved communication and transport, and greater life expectancy are just some of the myriad benefits of scientific research, just over the past 200 years. Hopefully our leaders will see this, will make sure scientific research is well funded and protected, and will ignore the luddites who are terrified of everything they don't understand.

    If those criticising scientific progress were living naked in the woods, catching food with their bare hands and eating it raw, and heroically dying of easily curable diseases for the sake of the environment, I might have some respect for them. Instead, they are living in centrally-heated houses, well-fed, healthy, safe, and (evidently) using computers. It's difficult to take their "arguments" seriously as they so clearly lack the courage of their own convictions.

    Regarding the unsubstantiated allegation that use of mobile phones causes cancer, I think I'll believe Cancer Research UK, who apparently know quite a lot about cancer.

    http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/cancercontroversies/mobilephones/

  • Comment number 24.

    'god knows what some nano-tech expert can come up with....'

    Indeed. Perhaps something that was unexpected and instead wipes out the human population. So it's onwards and upwards to the stars with ever more ingenious ways of putting off the fateful day huh? I think that day is much closer than you think. You may think we are invulnerable, but it is anything but the case. Of course people died, that what every living thing does. Of course many died young, and the survivors were the strongest and fittest to survive. That's how natural selection works. We removed our species from natural selection [well, partially removed] and as a result our species need for medical intervention and drugs grows and grows as more and more are unviable, but alive.
    The echinacea I take is powdered root, something that's been done for ages, untouched by scientific hands I believe. And I am well aware of plant-based medicines, the only ones I ever use. Other species also use them when sick. Didn't you know that? Only time I visited the doctor in the last twenty years was to have my ears syringed by the nurse.

    Most of the diseases you list are the result of bad living conditions, mostly down to living in cities. And everyone's grandparents lost family members, but having large families helped keep the numbers up.

  • Comment number 25.

    #23. Well said.

    Even a quick examination of the argument about mobile phones and cancer reveal them to be nonsensical. Take Dr DoLots post "They cause brain tumours. Haven't you heard either? Think microwave ovens, same technology, only you're holding it to your head. Ever noticed your ear getting hot? It's being microwaved as is your brain." Who implies that tumours are caused by the phone heating the brain.

    I had influenza as a kid and had a temperature of over 39'c for a week. Surely that would be far more carcinogenic if 'brain heating' is the cause of the cancer? By the same logic wearing a dark hat on a sunny day would be carcinogenic because that will heat your brain far more effectively than a phone.

  • Comment number 26.

    19. Well said!

  • Comment number 27.

    23. 'If those criticising scientific progress were living naked in the woods, catching food with their bare hands and eating it raw, and heroically dying of easily curable diseases for the sake of the environment, I might have some respect for them.'

    Why? Actually I'm not criticising scientific progress, rather I'm criticising the attitude that it can only ever be good, that things will only ever get better and that more science will lead to a better world. My thesis is that we are unsustainable, that we are damaging the world we depend on utterly for our existance and that techno fixes are not the answer but a complete change around from the acquisitive, selfish, greedy ape we have been for millenia. But to return to that sentance; did science invent weapons to hunt with? Did science invent clothing and cooking? By making ludicrous statements you undermine your case. There are many ways of living other than the city-stuffed, corporate-greed, trash the planet way to riches and a 'full' life beloved of the techno whiteman in his infernal combustion powered phallusmobile. None of them involve living naked [unless you want to] or catching animals with bare hands [what would vegetarians do with them other than pet them anyway?]interesting that you equate food with other species, presumably cousin mammals. Yet the vast majority of the Earth's human population exist largely on plant derived foods.

  • Comment number 28.

    'Regarding the unsubstantiated allegation that use of mobile phones causes cancer, I think I'll believe Cancer Research UK, who apparently know quite a lot about cancer.' well, they're in the business certainly, and have a vested interest in cancer. Which doesn't make them experts. They also conspire in the torture of millions of captive animals annually for research into a human disease, something I fundamentally oppose as immoral. I therefore have no interest in what they claim or believe. You believe what you want to.

    Question: do you think microwaving the brain, sometimes for hours on end, is good for it?

  • Comment number 29.

    27 "did science invent weapons to hunt with? Did science invent clothing and cooking?"

    More or less. Certainly you said 'well said' to post #19 "the most significant contribution of science has been to the conduct of war and conquest"

    The reason for your confusion is that science is neither good nor bad. Only its application is good or bad. A bow and arrow to hunt food is good. A bow and arrow used as a weapon of war is bad. Its the same with pretty much any other discovery. The basic bacteriology that fights disease is the same skill set you need to make germ weapons. If you want someone to blame blame the big corporations who market the science or the politicians who start the wars. Blame the engineers who take basic scientific discoveries (like polarised highly focused light) and engineer it into a man killing laser.

    P.S the vast majority of meat eaters largely exist on plant derived foods too. I'm not a lion. I need vitamins and fibre that only come from plants. Equally most vegetarians are not vegans and consume a fair bit of (none fatal) animal products like milk and cheese.

  • Comment number 30.

    24. At 12:11pm on 22 Jun 2010, DoctorDolots wrote:

    "Of course people died, that what every living thing does. Of course many died young, and the survivors were the strongest and fittest to survive. That's how natural selection works. We removed our species from natural selection [well, partially removed] and as a result our species need for medical intervention and drugs grows and grows as more and more are unviable, but alive."

    "strongest and fittest" in what sense? Resistance to one type of illness in infancy doesn't correlate to all-round better life chances except in environments where there is no medical treatment for the illness in question. Do you have any evidence to suggest that those who suffer from illness at a young age are more likely to be less physically strong or intelligent? And is this a good enough reason for letting them die?

    "The echinacea I take is powdered root, something that's been done for ages, untouched by scientific hands I believe. And I am well aware of plant-based medicines, the only ones I ever use."

    That is irrelevant. You have access to a daily supply because of a mechanised system of production, distribution and retail which is the product of scientific endeavour.

    "Most of the diseases you list are the result of bad living conditions, mostly down to living in cities. And everyone's grandparents lost family members, but having large families helped keep the numbers up."

    So please explain why the incidence of these diseases has fallen as urbanisation has increased? And having large families in which multiple siblings die young is neither a humane or resource-efficient alternative to having small, healthy families.

    To be honest, the society you seem to idolise is that of an undeveloped country (large families, high incidence of infant mortality, little access to modern medicine, non-mechanised agriculture). So why are you living in Scotland?

  • Comment number 31.

    " They also conspire in the torture of millions of captive animals annually for research into a human disease, something I fundamentally oppose as immoral. I therefore have no interest in what they claim or believe. You believe what you want to. "

    I think you've just killed the claim that you're not anti-science stone dead there. I was paid by CRUK for 10 years and never used a single mouse. My work was all human cell based or used pathological material from hospitals. The fact that you dismiss anything they publish as "claim or believe" rather than "can prove in peer reviewed journals" is as anti-science as you can get. If Coppernicus had dissected mice would you refuse to believe that the Earth orbits the sun because you don't agree with the technique used?

  • Comment number 32.

    Whetever you may think about science, the truth is that the future for science based jobs in the UK is very bleak. Most major employers in the science area have made massive reductions over the last 5 years and the rumours are that there are more to follow.

    Science in academia is under budget pressure due to the numbers of students vs resource.

    With this background can you honestly recommend science as a career to any young person.

    Scentific solutions e.g. a working fusion power plant will potentially 'save the planet' but we must 'save the people' first.

  • Comment number 33.

    To Dr DoLots,

    As Peter said, you are confusing science with the application thereof. Your comment on GM crops is a fine example, the science can create pest resistant crops that can produce seeds to be sown the following year, if the companies chose not to invest and produce these instead opting for pesticide resistant varieties, that is not the fault of the science but of the businesses and the politicians

    Also you never answered the question of, if using science to try and solve some of the world's problems is not the answer then what is?

    Everything practical in this world is science. The primative civilisations that first discovered that Ecinachia was good for the immune system were performing their own for of science even if the methods were very different to those considered the norm today.

    Your posts read as someone who hates life and has given up on the human race, well I say we are an amazing species, yes, we have made mistakes and our advancement has polluted the world and we are now at a tipping point, we can either work to rectify things by delevoping and enhancing new greener technologies or we can give up, sit back and say "science is bad" whilst watching our infrastructure crumble around us, when the heating and the lights go out, will you still be condeming science?

    To reitterate, science is the solution, the application of science can sometimes be the problem, but these are very different areas

  • Comment number 34.

    #32 Interesting point.

    I'm not sure I would recommend science as a career but I'm not sure what I'd do myself if I got the chance again...... aircraft engine mechanic probably. I always liked planes, I'm good with complex machines and easyjet/ryan air etc are a growth industry.

    Medicine is a very harsh, poorly paid (by hourly rate) job (my father and sister are doctors), law can be good but getting the first job after graduation is extremely hard. I.T is paying less and less and getting outsourced abroad....and as for finance.

    #33 Nicely put. The bowmaker in 12th century England deciding that Yew makes a better bow than elm by comparing both is as much a scientist as I am.

  • Comment number 35.

    I am no scientist but enjoy reading and following science news and sometimes I even understand some of the more complex issues but I am lost when the talk goes into detail.
    Is science important? You bet it is as it affects each and every one of us in our daily life and we should invest in the science in the UK. I would go further and say that we should give more to scientists to come up with solutions to problems.
    Take me for example, as an ordinary man my life has been saved on more than one occasion by science, including the testing of drugs on animals. Through cancer I almost died twice but each time radiotherapy saved me, and chemotherapy saved me. Since my life was saved 27 and then again 22 years ago the chemo drugs have come on in leaps and bounds and with each small advancement in knowledge more lives are saved and this is just in cancer research. What about trauma treatment which has saved untold thousands of lives. How can we not think a hip replacement (new metals and plastics) is not a worthy subject to be given money, just see how this and limb replacements can change the lives of people particularly younger people.
    How many people use plastics in their lives that would never have been available 40 years ago without science? Even the DNA and human genome breakthroughs have major affects on our lives.
    We often talk about heroes in our country but how often do we celebrate and declare some of our scientists are heroes, people whose dedication to often mundane, repeated tests that in end bring about so much. I wish to thank all the scientists, the people who perform scientific tests on blood, cells and tumours for saving my life. I don’t know who they are, or if they know what life saving work they do, but I thank you.
    Science is most important; we should invest in it and give the proper accolade to the scientists who change our lives each and every day.

  • Comment number 36.

    You are all laying claims for science which are illigitimate. Ancient herbal remedies were not science as we know it, you are attempting to move the goalposts in order to score points. Never a good debating stratagem.
    The bowmaker is not a scientist any more than the herbalist, unless you want to put all human activity, learning, knowledge and belief down to science, in which case it ceases to be anything, it merely describes thehuman animal's way of being. If that is your thesis, many of your previous points fall flat.
    I don't need to answer questions like what if science isn't the answer is the answer, perhaps there is no answer, perhaps it will all inevitably reach a conclusion and that will be your answer. I'm not here to provide answers, I observe and comment. I'm not in the business of providing solutions, there are none. Hominids will be hominids just as wildebeest will be wildebeest, we are what we are and we will one day become extinct because we weren't anywhere near as clever as we thought we were.
    Why would Copernicus have dissected mice to explore the stars? Hardly logical thinking if I may say so. My point is that all cancer charities refuse to stop animal testing. That you didn't torture one mouse is irrelevent. Why my opposition to animal testing kills my claim not to be anti-science is illogical; plenty of scientists are similarly opposed, are they by your definition non-scientists?

    A working fusion power plant will save the planet LOL, in your dreams.

    To fail to be inordinately impressed by the sheer brilliance of my species to the point where I think it has more right to everything than any other is not anti-human. It is pro life and pro diversity. All we seem to do is pave paradise and put up a parking lot. What's the point of it all? Breeding more and more humans to choke the roads with vehicles as they go about their micro-obsessed little lives in pursuit of the 'dreams' which largely come down to having yet more babies who in turn will sit in cars on the way to the supermarket, uncaring that everything they do has effects on other species ability to just survive. If they get in our way we label them pests or vermin and destroy them, oh and science has some wonderful tools for carrying out mass killings, we even use them against our own kind. Yes, the naked ape is so impressive, so admirable. You're all suffering species narcissism. But it's only human.

  • Comment number 37.

    The mobile phone issue is a good example of poor communication of science to the public, and media and establishment control. There are lot of high quality scientific papers published in international journals about damaging effects from mobile phones and yet very few people seem to know about it. Those that talk about it are told to put on their tin hats, or accused of being anti-progress. These are not helpful comments, they only serve to stop us moving forward to finding out which technologies are sustainable and which ones may increase disease. I work in science, and love it. I'm interested in how things really work, how cells respond and interact in networks. I want to know what is really going on, not what someone else wants me to think because it is convenient for them.

    As for tumours you can see:
    http://www.surgicalneurology-online.com/article/S0090-3019%2809%2900145-1/abstract
    http://www.spandidos-publications.com/ijo/35/1/5
    http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/167/4/457

    But phones also damage DNA, alter protein structures, lead to cell death, cognitive impairments, alter foetal development, and all at lower exposures than are needed for heating. Heat has nothing to do with it. Our cells respond to non-ionising radiation at very low powers.

    We can deny science that we don't like, but we won't be moving forward towards an honest understanding of the world. The next 50 years of science will bring developments where is it essential that we know what is really going on. One day ignoring the science we don't like may damage life beyond repair.




  • Comment number 38.

  • Comment number 39.

    25. Peter_Sym

    I suggest you study logic, when you have time. Your argument is riddled with inconsistencies and nonsensical conclusions.

    I've had influenza many times, that you only had it once as a kid is astonishing. I don't have it now, my immune system protects me as it does from colds. When all others around me are sneezing and coughing and suffering, I'm not. Haven't had a cold for over twenty years, don't intend to again.
    I'm not anti human, I'm just not overly impressed by humans like most seem to be. But then chimps [who also wage war against other chimps, our closest cousins]probably think they are pretty amazing too.
    I absolutely love life, live every minute to the full, appreciate beauty all around me, make the most of what I have and am content with little, because many years ago I discovered that to be happy you didn't need wealth and accumulated stuff, but a free mind and the ability to enjoy every moment. The Tao shows the way of living in harmony, or wanting nothing of stepping outside the circle of constant desire that plagues the human species. That's why the rich are the most unhappy people on the planet; forever needing more, forever dissatisfied with others being richer, forever wanting to feed that hunger inside but not knowing that getting richer won't do it. Yet still most others wish to emulate them, and the whole edifice of consuming capitalism depends on your slavish desire to 'better' yourselves and get more stuff. Yet all thinkers and sages throughout time have celebrated poverty and the absence of desire. Don't any of you ever listen.

  • Comment number 40.

    DoctorDoLots: the scientific principle is simple:

    Hypothesis: I believe that A is responsible for B happening.

    Experiment: a series of tests with suitable controls to test A and look for B happening.

    Conclusion: A either causes B or it doesn't cause B.

    That applies the same to me or the bowmaker. I make a vaccine that fails to produce an immune response then it goes in the bin and I go back to the drawing board. The bowmaker makes a Yew bow that shoots better than an elm one and elm goes in the dustbin and he starts refining yew.

    Whether you morally agree with the methods used to test the hypothesis or not doesn't affect the validity of the results at all. For instance in a series of totally abhorent experiments in Dachau the nazi's immersed people in freezing water to study the effects of hypothermia. It goes without saying that I would never replicate this however the results are correct - below 30'c you die. Whether you support freezing jews to death or not does not make the result incorrect. The scientists who object to testing on animals do so because in many cases an animal is a poor model for a human. Citing something like thalidomide for instance (which doesn't cause birth defects in rats) is a perfect idea of a scientific rejection of animal testing. As I stated earlier this is one of the reasons my CRUK funded work ONLY used human material.

    That it why I suggested that you would reject the teachings of copernicus if he'd dissected mice. Your objections are moral not scientific and are apparently so strong you'd argue black is white in the face of all the evidence. Incidentally Gregor Mendel (one of those 'best scientists working by candle light in monasteries' you're so keen on) didn't cross pea plants but mice. His results don't work on pea plants but do work on mice. Catholic monks aren't meant to be breeding mammals of course.

    The fact that you believe mobile phones cause cancer in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is hilarious. How can you claim to not be 'anti-science' when you'll argue that case? What someone 'believes' is not scientific, only what they can prove and prove in a way that is replicatable to others.



    P.S I really love the fact that you object to CRUK, a registered charity yet praise FTSE listed Holland and Barret or wherever you buy your 'herbal tablets'.

  • Comment number 41.

    Science is important to the uk, but uk investers are more important.
    It is one thing from having an idea to finding funding.

    A UK individual will struggle to get any where in the UK, this is why everyone ends up abroad, because UK investers are just not interested in science.
    (It doesnt make money like they want it to)

  • Comment number 42.

    37. - 38. Thanks for the info, the link is being screwed up by the end being missed off in the linking, if you copy and paste it it works fine. Don't know why that happens.

    The anti cancer charities probably aren't interested in mobile phone invesigation as they can't get animals to use them.





  • Comment number 43.

    #39. Influenza is a serious illness that puts you in bed for weeks and kills 10,000+ Brits a year. I've had it once (when the commonwealth games was in Edinburgh... 1985?) Its not the 'flu' people claim to have to get a few days off work. Given that I've had it once and you've had it 'many times' yet now your immune system protects you (what was wrong with it before?) makes me question how you can accuse ME of being illogical.

    On the plus side if the rich are the most unhappiest I should be pretty happy with myself. You don't go into science for the pay. You should also have a look at HYS about the England football team and read some of my comments. Unlike the rest of Britain I don't give a monkey's how many million football players earn. Not my business as long as I have what I need.

  • Comment number 44.

    "The anti cancer charities probably aren't interested in mobile phone invesigation as they can't get animals to use them."

    Is probably the stupidest comment I've ever heard. If you can make a beagle smoke you can stick a phone next to a rats head. The Cancer charities aren't interested in phones because with 40,000 UK breast cancer deaths a year and nearly the same for lung and bowel cancer a completely static incidence of very uncommon brain tumours is not worth the extremely limited funding available.

  • Comment number 45.

    44. Don't do humour huh?

    Never mind.





  • Comment number 46.

    On the contrary. My sides are splitting just thinking about you taking a little pill to boost your immune system manufactured to pharmaceutial production standards when simultaneously criticising scientists and praising all things natural.

    Its nearly as funny as the organic farming lot praising their manure (linked to several outbreaks of E.coli 0157) while saying nitrate based fertilisers do 'unspecified harm to our health'

  • Comment number 47.

    43. Flu is a shortening of inFLUenza, nothing do do with excuses for sickies. And I have had it many times, possibly because I have many more years on this planet than you. If you have only had it once you have been fortunate. The difference between then and now, since you ask, is possibly that then I was unaware and merely took whatever life threw at me - sniffly nose oh no I have a cold, start taking quack cold remedies -now I consciously reject invasions of organisms, prime my immune system regularly with echinacea, and use mind techniques. Whether you belive me is irrelevent, I really don't care. It is how it is, and I have empirical proof in the fact I don't get sick. Will I market my techniques? Nah, it would only make me rich and thus unhappy, so why bother. I remember inFLUenza with utter horror; sweating so much that not just sheets but mattress was soaked, feeling so awful that I really wanted to die just for relief. That the ignorant claim to have had the flu is nothing to do with anything other than your refusal to understand what I'm saying. Mostly defensively.
    I have no idea what HYS is and have zero interest in grown men kicking a ball about and others paying large sums of money to watch them, and thus make them rich. The proles who pay out hard earned cash to make the few obscenely rich obviously deserve to be fleeced.

  • Comment number 48.

    No 'Influenza' is a disease caused by a specific class of orthomyxoviridae virues. The fact that people with a variety of minor colds call their disease flu does not make it so, any more than calling gastroenteritis 'ebola' would make it an African Haemoragic fever. What you describe is a pretty good write up of proper influenza. You don't go back to work with it after 2 days off.

    The over the counter cold remedies generally take the edge off the symptoms but no more. 20p paracetamol and some good plain food are more effective.

    As to why I've only had it once: I know my tissue type. There's an antigenic sequence on influenza viruses that very rarely mutates and is processed by my T-cells (and 30-40% of the rest of the country) so one encounter with it gave me pretty good protection against most flu strains. I had plenty of contact with swine flu last year and showed no symptoms.

    I won't even mock your 'mind techniques' either. Positive thought is hard to measure scientifically but attitude to cancer definately improves prognosis. Thats proven.

    "I have no idea what HYS is and have zero interest in grown men kicking a ball about and others paying large sums of money to watch them, and thus make them rich. The proles who pay out hard earned cash to make the few obscenely rich obviously deserve to be fleeced. "

    Have your say = HYS. The main BBC blog page. Other than that we agree on football and those who pay to watch it.

  • Comment number 49.

    46. Whatever turns you on.

    'The fact that you believe mobile phones cause cancer in the face of to the contrary is hilarious. How can you claim to not be 'anti-science' when you'll argue that case?'

    How can you claim to be pro science when you believe what it suits you to believe and reject what you find inconvenient?

    Tried these yet?

    http://www.surgicalneurology-online.com/article/S0090-3019%2809%2900145-1/abstract


    http://www.spandidos-publications.com/ijo/35/1/5

    http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/167/4/457

    Scientists once thought radiation was harmless and encouraged servicemen to face nuclear explosions and watch them. They suffered all their lives as a result, many died prematurely. We were all going to be driving about in nuclear cars also, according to scientists in the fifties. Your innocent belief in science is touching, but don't let me spoil your hilarity. Split your sides all you like, I'm sure science will find a cure. I'll just go on free of sickness, feeling half my age, while others of my generation are either already dead or suffering from cocktails of diseases and the chemical coshes doctors prescribe; looking old, scared and defeated.

    I'll not die whimpering in pain in a hospital bed stuck with needles and stitched up from pointless surgery, pleasing for no more operations, like my poor dad did, I'll go when I'm ready and without the intervention of 'modern medicine'.

    I wonder how wild animals manage to stay alive at all without a health clinic to pop into like we are apparently in need of.

  • Comment number 50.

    48. Proof you either don't read well or fail to understand what I wrote, which is precisely what you are saying; influenza is the same as flu and is nothing to do with sickies and people saying they had a touch of flu.

    I don't have time to visit too many blog pages, especially if they contain football fanatics. Spent quite enough time here already, must go, nice talking with you. By the way, my eldest is a scientist, works in renewable energy, seeking greensolutions to burning fossil fuels. We often have these arguments about science too, I guess I just don't have the optimism of younger people that we will find a way round the present mess, I believe it's terminal. That's the only belief I have, and it's based not on mumbo jumbo or religious teaching but on observation, reading, listening and thinking over decades. Must be off.

  • Comment number 51.

    #49. Scientists most certainly did not think radiation was harmless and encouraged servicemen to face nuclear explosions. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki we had a damn good idea what radiation did. The government exposed servicemen to radiation (and nerve gases) to see how much they could take and keep fighting. The answer actually is far more than you'd guess.

    But that just proves my point about the use of science. The same radiation is useful for fighting cancer not just causing it.

    And yes I did read those papers. They're statistical analysis not experimental papers. What they study is mobile phone useage which is measured by questionaire (which depends very much on peoples memory) and doesn't quantify how much radiation was received then compares it to rate of cancer. The study size is quite small so one or two extra cases looks quite significant but isn't. There's no explanation for mechanism of tumour development and no experimental model. I had a friend who's brother died at 20 years old from lung cancer. Never smoked. His death does not disprove that smoking causes lung cancer as he clearly inherited some terrible genetic fault that made him very vunerable to cancer. The papers you quote can't assess that sort of situation. For all you know the few brain cancer patients who also got tumours live in houses with basements full of radon gas.

    As I tell my students as a warning against jumping to conclusion:
    - if everyone drinking from the same well gets cholera its a reasonable assumption that the well is the source. However the fact that everyone who gets breast cancer also wears a skirt does not mean that skirts cause breast cancer. Associations MAY suggest a cause but they may not. Either way you have to prove a mechanism.

    In any case you're missing the point. If those papers are 100% correct then other larger studies will back them up and the bulk of scientific opinion will agree. Come up with a better explanation for evolution than Darwin did and prove your missing link and I'll ditch origin of the species for your method instantly. Thats the difference between science and religion.

    As to how do wild animals stay alive. They don't. A fox will live 12-15 years as a pet. Most wild ones are dead in 3 of starvation and disease. Just like us a few centuries back.

  • Comment number 52.

    Give my best to your eldest. If the money is behind him (or her... you don't say) they'll probably do O.K.

    All I know is that your doom predictions have been repeated several times before- the Rev Malthus originally, then again in the early 60's before the green revolution really hit China and India. We have a pretty good record of proving the doomsayers wrong. Especially when the predictions of doom are based on dodgy evidence (such as the south sea islands drowning under rising sea levels... last week they found out that because of coral growth these islands are actually rising!)

  • Comment number 53.

    27. At 12:25pm on 22 Jun 2010, DoctorDolots wrote:
    "23. 'If those criticising scientific progress were living naked in the woods, catching food with their bare hands and eating it raw, and heroically dying of easily curable diseases for the sake of the environment, I might have some respect for them.'

    Why? Actually I'm not criticising scientific progress, rather I'm criticising the attitude that it can only ever be good, that things will only ever get better and that more science will lead to a better world. My thesis is that we are unsustainable, that we are damaging the world we depend on utterly for our existance and that techno fixes are not the answer but a complete change around from the acquisitive, selfish, greedy ape we have been for millenia."

    I'd say that is unequivocally a criticism, true or not.

    "But to return to that sentance; did science invent weapons to hunt with? Did science invent clothing and cooking? By making ludicrous statements you undermine your case."

    Indeed. Science is not an agent, it cannot invent anything. It is a mode of inquiry and endeavour, which can have results. I happen to believe those results are generally positive, perhaps because I value human life. And yes, weapons to hunt with, clothes and possibly even fire itself were the result of scientific inquiry in the earliest ages of humanity.

    "There are many ways of living other than the city-stuffed, corporate-greed, trash the planet way to riches and a 'full' life beloved of the techno whiteman in his infernal combustion powered phallusmobile."

    Yes, there are. As I've said (post 30), people are living your "alternative" at the moment, in conditions of unimaginable (to us) misery and degradation around the world. Perhaps it seems attractive to you because you are so far away from them. We always seem to appreciate least what we already have. This is not to say we shouldn't aspire to better corporate governance, more equality of opportunity or cleaner fuels, but these will obviously not be achieved by abandoning scientific research.

    "None of them involve living naked [unless you want to] or catching animals with bare hands [what would vegetarians do with them other than pet them anyway?]interesting that you equate food with other species, presumably cousin mammals. Yet the vast majority of the Earth's human population exist largely on plant derived foods."

    I do not equate food with other species (although meat can be a highly beneficial part of the human diet), but I do equate food with artificial forms of food production i.e. agriculture, by which the majority of humanity has been fed over the past 4,500 years. To attempt to deny this would be moronic.

  • Comment number 54.

    Thanks to all to another week of excellent comments. Over the four weeks of the lectures we've had hundreds of comments and thousands of listeners have joined in the discussion, here on the blog, on Twitter and on the live chat.

    Two emails that came in after transmission are worth publishing here. First, from Ben:

    In the past decades hundreds of Government funded labs have closed, been sold off or run down – a prime example being government defence labs which are a shadow of their former past and which were a significant source of technology subsequently exploited by UK Industry.

    And from Malcolm:

    What a pity Mr Rees had to make a veiled attack on the Arts and Eastern mysticism. I think it shows a poverty of spirit! It isn’t through science and technology that Britain will remain one of the greatest places on earth to live. Its through the richness of its people’s arts, culture and philosophies. What a dry and sterile world this would be if we were all scientists!

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 55.

    I saw a Discovery documentary not long ago, that showed some scientists in Texas making synthetic petrol from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. They mixed the right proportions together in a solar furnace (a furnace powered by sunlight) which raised the tempreture into the thousands, and voila: petrol. Each furnace could produce up to 5 gallons a day, without the use of any electricity. It made me suddenly feel hopeful about our future energy security. With the right investment Im sure it could be made more efficient. It would mean turning deserts into processing plants, but nobody lives there anyway. It should also completely prevent any environmental disasters and would probbably be cheaper than drilling for oil.

  • Comment number 56.

    "54:

    What a pity Mr Rees had to make a veiled attack on the Arts and Eastern mysticism. I think it shows a poverty of spirit! It isn’t through science and technology that Britain will remain one of the greatest places on earth to live. Its through the richness of its people’s arts, culture and philosophies. What a dry and sterile world this would be if we were all scientists!"

    I'm not convinced of this. First of all, most "mysticism" is pure dross, concocted in the 1930s by fraudsters like Madame Blatavsky and Rudolf Steiner to make money off the idle rich, something it continues to do today. It had nothing to contribute then, and nothing to contribute now.

    Second, a large part of the culture and philosophy of modern Britain at its best (and other western countries) is an open-minded enthusiasm and optimism for the potential benefits of scientific endeavour, which sets us apart from despotic, backward-looking regimes determined to keep their populations ignorant, downtrodden and deprived.

    Far from being "dry and sterile", a world in which people tackled problems using empirical observation and deductive reasoning instead of prejudice and emotion would be greatly preferable to the one we live in now.

  • Comment number 57.

    Having read so many sophisticated comments from those 'sow' much brighter than me, I comment with huge trepidation?

    1) GM crops - honestly? Are still ultimately about private license and permission to grow said GM crop? Why are huge multi-national companies investing in GM crops? If you were a share-holder and not a peasant - what would you invest in?

    2) As for climate change - am agnostic - the focus for science and scientists, in all areas, should focus on ensuring and maintaining a clean drinking water supply. Australia is building de-salination plants.

    3) All governments, scientists, business and 'ordinary' people absolutely KNOW that we, as humans are living on the edge of power supply and that however many millions of ordinary people cut their use of power - it is nothing compared to the waste of ALL government departments and business globally?

    It would be helpful if governments, scientists etc., stopped pretending - people know the problems - be honest and deal with power and water supply - don't allow anarchists and greens with no answers to run the main problems?

  • Comment number 58.

    education - inseparable from science - was cut by 25% today. Says it all!

  • Comment number 59.

    Life is important in all its various guises. We know, with or without science, our tendency to think about beginnings and endings may be very simplistic and death may be a far more complex event than we can consciously understand. We know, with or without science, our subconscious is a jewel in our personal crowns, almost unfathomable in its rich tapestry of potential.

    Science needs to apply the same unlimited freedom of expressions it bestows in cosmology to all avenues of human endeavour, including, dare I say it, the more spiritual, sacred, and esoteric guilds of humanity.

  • Comment number 60.

    I find the lecture of interest, but the debate it has provoked profoundly depressing.

    Science is neutral, like fire or a knife. It can do great good and it can do great harm... and often it is not on purpose but an accident which outcome you get. But we don't forgo fire because it can destroy, not get rid of all our knives because if you stick them in people it hurts and they can die (ask any surgeon!).

    It is the old "Two men look out from prison bars, one saw mud the other stars" concept: your opinion on the value of scientific endevour depends more on YOUR outlook than on SCIENCE itself. I believe in the optomistic view, but tempered with pragmatism - and prefer above all, to KNOW. Finding out can be the greatest fun imaginable, it's why learning is such an enjoyable process even when you are learning about what others have already done rather than adding something new.

    No event is devoid of opportunities... and climates have changed ever since the planet was in a state to HAVE a climate. The trick is to find out what the climate is doing, and adapt to it.

  • Comment number 61.

    As this must be almost the last word,pity there was not more about
    the error of not adopting EJ Bronte`s evolutionary theory which preceded Darwin`s but was more modern,had less bloodlust rhetoric and might not have encouraged two world wars and a holocaust-all because she was not a middle-class white guy.She was miles better as a naturalist and illustrator than Darwin was. Paul Camster wrote a convincing account of it-probably now exclusive to his co-writer`s firm.
    He had a website at:

    http://americanstalingrad.bravehost.com/HOLLYWOODRebeccaR-.htm

  • Comment number 62.

    Here in the UK there is not enough funding for idears, iv invented a redical new way of producing power from tidal stream enery. I can get a few thousand pounds from local government if i start up my own buisness, but im not a buisness man, im an inventor and there is no help to get in touch with a buisness man who I could trust.

  • Comment number 63.

    Just scanned through all this, it should be analysed into a relevant digest for wider dissemination. The extended argument between those two relentless commentators who dominated the discussion generated by the last lecture has merits, as it exemplifies extremes. At the beginning of the series I posted a comment I should like to reiterate: science per se is not the real issue, it is the way we conduct our science. As I suggested before, we need to nurture an "ecology of science" not just restrict ourselves to what can be comfortably relegated as yet another specialisation viz a "science of ecology"...there is important grist for our cultural, social, intellectual and ethical political understanding here!

  • Comment number 64.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 65.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 66.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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