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Embracing Failure and Uncertainty

Tom Sutcliffe discusses the importance of uncertainty and failure with Helga Nowotny, David Willetts, Matthew Syed and Oliver Morton.

On Start the Week Tom Sutcliffe discusses the importance of uncertainty and failure. The former head of the European Research Council Helga Nowotny argues research is fed by uncertainty and that any form of scientific inquiry may produce results that are ambiguous. She criticises policy makers for focusing on easy short-term solutions, but the former conservative MP and Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, understands the difficulty for governments in dealing with uncertainty. In his role at the think tank Resolution Foundation he's attempting to use analytical research to improve policy on living standards. Matthew Syed examines how a positive attitude to failure can lead to success in areas as diverse as sport, business, politics and healthcare. The failure of governments to come to an agreement on climate change will be discussed next month at a UN conference in Paris and Oliver Morton looks at whether the radical, yet uncertain, strategies of geo-engineering are the answer.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Available now

43 minutes

Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed is a journalist, author and broadcaster.

Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success is published by John Murray.

Helga Nowotny

Helga Nowotny is former President of the European Research Council and is Professor Emerita of Social Studies of Science at ETH Zurich.

The Cunning of Uncertainty is published by Polity.

David Willetts

David Willetts, former Conservative Minister of State for Universities and Science, is Executive Chair of the think tank Resolution Foundation.

The Pinch was published by Atlantic Books in 2010.

Oliver Morton

Oliver Morton is Briefings Editor of The Economist.

The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World is published by Granta Books.

Start the Week at the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival

Start the Week is recording an edition of the programme at BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival at Sage, Gateshead on Saturday 7 November, 2.00-3.00pm.  For tickets to this and other festival events click here.


Role Contributor
Presenter Tom Sutcliffe
Interviewed Guest Helga Nowotny
Interviewed Guest David Willetts
Interviewed Guest Matthew Syed
Interviewed Guest Oliver Morton
Producer Katy Hickman


  • Mon 2 Nov 2015 09:00
  • Mon 2 Nov 2015 21:30