2.59 Underlying public attitudes to any
particular issue or activity will be found a variety of public
values. As the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP)
put it in its recent report Setting Environmental Standards,
"beliefs, either individual or social,
about what is important in life, and thus about the ends or objectives
which should govern and shape public policies".
2.60 The RCEP goes on to identify two characteristics
of values. First, they evolve through information and reflection.
Second, when applied to any particular situation, the values of
any individual will often conflict with each other, and with the
values of other people. Policy-makers therefore face a triple
challenge: recognising people's values, seeing that they are understood
and brought into the debate, and making policy which comes near
enough to satisfying the values of enough people to command support.
2.61 In matters with a scientific element
there is arguably a fourth challenge, due to the deference of
many people in the face of "science". The challenge
is to help and provoke people to articulate their values, which
otherwise may go altogether unexpressed.
2.62 The RCEP observes that values are not
the same as interests. Interests may be accommodated, bought off
or "squared"; values may not. The RCEP gives examples
of widely-held values in the environmental field:
- "the environment is a vital resource for
human livelihood and an essential condition for human health and
- the rich diversity of species, ecosystems and
habitats deserves protection not because of its usefulness to
the human race, but for its own sake;
- the environment has a cultural, historical or
social significance, and may deserve protection on this account
alone (for example, a landscape which has resulted from industrial
or mining activity may signify a history of which a community
may be proud or highly conscious" (SES 7.4).
2.63 Greenpeace attempts some broader generalisations
(p 311), relevant equally to GMOs, chemical hazards and nuclear
- Public reaction to risk may not correspond to
quantitative assessment. "Reactions to uncontrollable, poorly
understood, inequitable, intergenerational and potentially catastrophic
or irreversible risks are likely to be negative."
- The public may demand justification for risk,
especially when those who create the risk, and benefit from it,
are not the same as those who bear the risk.
- The public want a "more natural personal
2.64 Both these sets of statements express
values with which many readers will identify. It is not however
the purpose of this report to say what we believe the values of
the British public to be. This question must be asked afresh by
policy-makers as each new situation arises.
2.65 In our view knowledge obtained through
scientific investigation does not in itself have a moral dimension;
but the ways in which it is pursued, and the applications to which
it may be put, inevitably engage with morality. Science is conducted
and applied by individuals; as individuals and as a collection
of professions, scientists must have morality and values, and
must be allowed and indeed expected to apply them to their work
and its applications. By declaring openly the values which underpin
their work, and by engaging with the values and attitudes of the
public, they are far more likely to command public support.
2.66 The importance of this is not confined
to scientists; it extends to those who make policy, whether public
or commercial, on the basis of scientific opportunities and advice.
Policy-makers will find it hard to win public support, or even
acquiescence, on any issue with a science component, unless the
public's attitudes and values are recognised, respected and weighed
in the balance along with the scientific and other factors.
2.67 Once this is acknowledged, the question,
as we have already observed, is how to put it into practice. In
Chapter 3 we consider activities which conventionally bear the
label "public understanding of science", and their role
in bringing out public attitudes to new developments in science.
In Chapter 5 we consider the case for new more interactive processes
of public dialogue.
12 Durant, Evans & Thomas, Public understanding
of science, Nature 340 (6 July 1989); Durant &
Bauer, Public understanding of science in Britain, report
to the OST, 1997. Back
Op. cit. Back
The British Government's standing consultative panel of 5,000
members of the public. See Chapter 5 below. Back
22 May 1999. Back
Public Perceptions of Chemistry, Qualitative Research, Management
Report, RSC May 1995. Back
Op. cit. Back
Grove-White et al 1997, Wynne et al 1995. Back
Comprising 13 learned societies. Back
The body which accredits, regulates and represents professional
engineers in the UK. Back
Royal Society Anniversary Address 1999. Back
The politics of GM food: risk, science and public trust,
ESRC Special Briefing 5, October 1999; Wynne, Patronising Joe
Public, THES 1996. Back
Genetically Modified Foods, Facts, Worries, Policies and Public
Confidence, OST, February 1999. Back
Irwin and Wynne (eds), Misunderstanding science? Cambridge
University Press 1996. Back
21st Report, October 1998, Cm 4053. Referred to below as "SES". Back