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Monday 15 - 29 December 2008, 21.00-21.30 

Scientific ideas are always changing, but often not without a fight. Sue Nelson brings two scientists together to discuss and argue about their strongly-held opinions on issues of fundamental importance to the science that they do.

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Sue Nelson

Programme 1 – Genetically Modified Crops

When the first trials of Genetically Modified crops reached UK soil over a decade ago, the public consensus was clear. GM food was “Frankenstein food” – and the threat of contaminating ‘normal’ crops was a risk few were willing to take.

Fast forward to the present day, and the GM debate is as fierce as ever. Faced with a global food crisis, scientists are looking to countries that have been growing and eating GM crops for years. So far, at least, the environmental and health disasters everyone feared have not occurred.

So is it time to rethink the role of GM? Or can we do without it - feeding 6 billion mouths through skilled, varied and sustainable farming?

Sue Nelson is joined by ecologist and Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, Lord John Krebs and biologist and acclaimed science writer Colin Tudge, who argue the scientific merits and concerns of using GM crops to feed the world.

Listen again Listen to programme 1

Programme 2 – Animal Testing

Can it ever be justified to use animals in the name of science?

Crucial scientific breakthroughs have all been developed with the help of animal testing, but with computer simulations, human volunteers and specially grown tissue cultures now at their disposal, scientists can carry out some of their research without hurting or killing living creatures.

How do these alternatives measure up and are scientists willing to cut back on their use of lab animals?

Is there a real drive within the scientific community to follow the Three R Declaration of reducing, refining and replacing animal use? And should they be held to ransom by the animal rights lobby?

Sue Nelson is joined by Professor Michael Balls who has had a distinguished academic career in science, and was the first Head of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), and Professor John Stein, a physiologist at the University of Oxford, who is chair and founder of the Dyslexia Research Trust.

Listen again Listen to programme 2

Programme 3 – Funding Science

With a limited budget for funding science in the UK and worldwide, there will always be heated debates about which are the best projects to spend the money on.

This year, a particularly expensive experiment drew a lot of attention to this debate: the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  Protagonists think this particle accelerator will revolutionize our understanding of everything from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe.

But is it worth the £4.4 billion it will cost over the next three years, especially now that it’s broken and requires even more money to get it up and running again?

Would the money have been better spent on more practical, easily realized projects, such as researching renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gases and finding cures for diseases?

Much “blue skies” research has yielded hugely useful spin-off discoveries in the past: indeed the world wide web was developed by CERN researchers.  But can we gamble with public money when we’re facing very real problems that require scientific solutions? And how much should politics and economics dictate what research takes place and when?

Sue Nelson is joined by Sir John Lawton, currently Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and a former Chief Executive of the National Environmental Research Council, and Dr Sue Ion, vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a member of the UK Council for Science and Technology.

Listen again Listen to programme 3
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