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Lord Winston: My Lords, first, it is my pleasant duty and great privilege, as chairman of the parent committee, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for his excellent chairmanship of this sub-committee of the Select Committee. His chairmanship was truly distinguished. He has produced a most important report on science and our endeavours in science. The scientific community at large is extremely grateful to him.
It is also wonderful to see him back in full fettle in this House, having had a short illness. We are extremely grateful for that too. It was extremely good that we were able to communicate repeatedly, using the latest electronic means while he was absent from the House.
It is also extremely good to see the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave, in his place. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me that it is very good for science that two of our very best Ministers and former science Ministers are in this House to speak in the debate. I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave. I do not quite know why he is batting at No. 11 but then the Minister is not batting until No. 17, so he has got to listen to a great deal more still.
The perception of science has never been more important. That is obvious. We have seen, in the past two or three years, the most disastrous consequences for that sector when things have gone wrong. It is clear that mistakes have been made in relation to perceptions as regards genetically modified foods. Other matters will arise which are also extremely important.
This House has an important role to play in the perception of science. To that extent, the Select Committee has done an extremely good job in tending to produce reports which, and having chairmen who, flag up issues which are important in science and in society. In a sense, this report is simply part of that continuum.
It seems to me that, as never before, this House has focused on science. It is interesting to consider that we have not only the Select Committee but also two new ad hoc committees--one on stem cells and one on animal research. Although they cover very important ethical issues, they have scientific matters as their basis which will need very careful scientific scrutiny and input.
Many scientists believe that consideration should be given to more scientific input in this House. It is clear that there are large numbers of lawyers and ex-politicians here, but it might not be bad to see more people from the field of technology and science, given its importance for our economy and for the way in which we shall need to conduct our affairs in this country in the future.
One of the problems in science is the appearance of extremely effective single-interest pressure groups, which persuade the debate in a particular direction, often in a way which is extraordinarily biased. A typical example was the stem cell debate. I understand that major ethical issues are at stake. However, most of such issues had been explored in detail by scientists 20 years earlier. Robert Edwards was thinking about the issues in ethical terms and published work on them long ago.
As the debates came up in both Houses, there was an extraordinary frisson of activity. Members in this House and the other place were bombarded by members of the public who, quite rightly, had deep concerns about, and often deep objections to, the kind of research that scientists were suggesting. I believe that those people did not always represent the overriding body of general opinion. That, surely, was reflected in the vote in both Houses, but it had a profound effect. There were huge objections.
On the morning of the debate I was involved in a television interview outside the gates of the House. I was being watched by two policemen when I was interrupted by a perfectly moral lady who felt that she had a great cause. She repeatedly tried to interrupt and hector me. Although I never laid a hand on her, she accused me in the Catholic Herald of having assaulted her. It would be rather difficult for me to assault anybody on camera, with two policeman watching at the gate. However, that is not the point. Once the protests were over and the debate decided, not one of us received a single letter about the way Parliament voted. I believe that people's initial objections to science and technology are often greater than they are once the issues are clearly explained. We need to do much more to explain our role as scientists in society.
There is also the argument about God and science. I do not consider for one moment that the two are incompatible. As scientists, we are given the works of creation. It is our duty and a matter of free will that we try to use our God-given intelligence to promote, protect and maintain human life. That is widely recognised in different forms among scientists, but often forgotten in society. The suspicion which surrounds scientists is unfortunate and needs to be changed. There is a need for more ethical debates of this type involving scientists.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I am concerned about the role of the press. There is no doubt that in this country we have some outstanding science journalists, some of the best in the world. I have had contact with the other country which has outstanding science journalists; that is, the United States. Ours are certainly as good as theirs. We took evidence from notable journalists. I do not think that we can perhaps call Sir David Attenborough a journalist, but his evidence was remarkable and extraordinarily interesting, as was that given by Stephen O'Connor, Tim Radford and others about the attitude of the press.
One of the most scientifically literate of all the daily newspapers is the Daily Telegraph, where the excellent science correspondent, Roger Highfield, resides. One of the problems we perceived in the committee was the fact that although there are often good science journalists cautiously and properly reporting and checking their facts, that bears little relation to the perception often publicised by editors and news desks. That is a major problem.
I am sure that your Lordships will agree that the stem cell debate was conducted to the highest standards of this House, with serious argument and profound concern for the issues. The following day the Daily Telegraph had as its headline, "The Lords support" or "promote"--I forget the exact words, "human cloning". The debate was not about human cloning. We agreed that that is impossible and illegal. I believe that even therapeutic cloning is an
As scientists, we need to do much more outreach work. We could do much more in schools to promote our work. Most scientific laboratories have as their backbone a PhD student. He is poorly paid and often under heavy stress, but eloquent when explaining his work to other young people. Those people should be much more welcomed, invited in, and promoted by schools to talk about their work. There is clearly a problem in schools. That is a matter to which we shall return. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, feels strongly about the matter and I suspect she may want to address it, so I shall not enter that territory. However, there is no question but that there are problems, particularly at key stage 3, when there is a refocusing of the curriculum for children as they approach GCSE level. Often, children become illiterate in science.
One of the greatest threats facing us in terms of science and society, certainly in biosciences, concerns our attitude towards animal work, and probably in the physical sciences the issues relating to energy usage and global warming. In the case of animal work, there is no doubt that perceived pressure may persuade people down a route which will not promote human welfare, happiness or well-being and which will do little for the humanity with which we must treat animals.
We have a major job to do in the future with perception. That is one of the reasons why this debate is important. Animal research is essential for human welfare. It is worth considering, for example, that every single drug we take is based on animal research, as it must be. Without it, such drugs would be unsafe. We need to try to get across that sort of message to the public. We also need much more serious debate about the use of nuclear energy.
Before I sit down, I should like to pay tribute to a number of organisations which have done outstanding work in the field of public outreach. The British Association for the Advancement of Science devotes its entire work to public understanding of science. It has done extraordinarily well in promoting effective press activity and in publicising what is best in British science. It clearly has a major impact. Another organisation which is stupendous, and where we certainly score heavily over the Americans, is the Wellcome Trust. It has done immensely good work. It continues to do work which is open, patently useful and brings together science and the public.
I am pleased to say that the Royal Society has become much less opaque. It now presents the public with documents which are easy to read and easy to assimilate. The museums are also doing an extraordinarily good job in promoting science, in terms of the innovative way in which they exhibit. Such matters are important in terms of how they are supported by government in the future. They certainly contribute to the public's understanding of science.
Finally, it is important that the research councils and those responsible for university funding arrive at mechanisms which ensure that we give points to people who speak for science in a responsible fashion. Much more can be done about that. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, quite rightly, that at present in many universities scientists are penalised for doing that. On the contrary, the activity should be greatly promoted. I am grateful for the report, which covers many important issues. I commend it to the House.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am much impressed by the report. It is one of many valuable reports issued by the committee. However, I found it particularly illuminating because it told me a lot that I did not know. It seems eminently sensible and wise in its recommendations. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on the way in which he introduced it.
It is obviously right that scientists, the Government, the regulators and companies should be more open; that scientists should learn to be more extrovert and should listen and communicate better; and that the press should be urged to adopt a code of conduct. As I have been invited to do so, I shall comment briefly on such a code of conduct.
The committee's report includes and commends helpful guidelines by the Royal Society for both editors and scientists working with the media. However, I want to commend the fuller code of practice proposed by the body referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin: the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford. I played a minute part in the preparation of the report but it is nevertheless of excellent quality. It has many distinguished contributors, including people such as Sir John Krebs and Professor Susan Greenfield.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked why the code of practice has not received wider publicity and circulation. The answer is that it is an admirable effort by a very small institution which until recently had no funding for the promotion of the code of practice. The institution has now received funding and I am delighted to say that it will be initiating a series of meetings in order to publicise the code.
The code which is recommended by the SIRC starts by demonstrating how important it is to get science stories right. Misleading stories can be positively dangerous, and can even cost lives. The MMR vaccine and the pill scares are cases in point. Indeed, false hopes can also be raised which can have a devastating effect on people with terminal illnesses.
The code goes on to set out in greater detail than does the Royal Society what is required to establish the credibility of the people who carried out an investigation; the credibility of the way the investigation was conducted; and the credibility of the findings themselves. It points out the need for special scrutiny where findings challenge existing assumptions and differ from previous knowledge. It contains a large number of most valuable recommendations which I regret I cannot deal with during my speech.
If the recommendations were adopted by the press, many of the problems relating to the public's understanding of science would be solved. But it may be a somewhat optimistic expectation that they will be adopted, although I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has accepted the recommendations in the code and that they have been endorsed by the Press Complaints Commission.
There is one aspect of the Select Committee's report which I find slightly disappointing. More openness and better education and communication are obviously desirable. However, in my view, perhaps the single most important source of our problems lies with the press and to a lesser extent with the broadcast media. On this issue, the report somewhat pulls its punches--perhaps understandably so.
My first complaint is about the intellectual sloppiness of much science reporting. The media often get things wrong because they do not bother to get things right. I heard an example only the other day on the BBC about the mapping of the human genome. The newsreader said that the genome,
I know that the subject of the human genome is complex. Indeed, the phrase "human genome" is misleading because there is not just one human genome but billions. The genome sequence contains the genetic code which profoundly influences our bodies, our behaviour and our minds, but if that was what the statement was trying to convey it was incorrect.
However, that is a minor complaint. Far more serious is the frequent deliberate distortion by the press and the wilful failure to correct the distortions if the correction does not suit the newspaper's agenda. In the case of the MMR vaccine scare, which was stirred up by the media, the fault lay, it seems, partly in a lack of balance and partly in a determination not to let science reporters spoil a good sensational story. More of that later. But in the "Frankenstein food" scare, the papers launched a campaign and then deliberately shut their eyes to any evidence that contradicted their stories and which showed that the scary headlines were unfounded. As the Select Committee's report found--and I thought it most interesting--science specialists on the campaigning papers were deliberately pushed aside.
The Pusztai saga and the GM food scares are a shameful indictment of British journalism. It all started when Dr Pusztai fed harmful lectins inserted in potatoes to rats, which he claimed poisoned them. When his experiments, which were not complete and were not confirmed by peer review, were thoroughly discredited, there was no attempt to correct the stories about "Frankenstein foods".
Reports by the Select Committees of both Houses, by the Royal Society and by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, let alone the result of some 50,000 experiments world-wide, were completely ignored. To acknowledge them was simply not part of the campaigning papers' agenda; and having created a mood of public panic, which drove genetically modified products from the supermarket shelves, the press then justified its stand by pointing to consumer pressures.
Yet, when part of the press is indifferent to the truth, or to evidence which contradicts the stand it takes, it undermines the health of our democracy. It is an exercise of power without responsibility--well known, of course, as the privilege of a certain section of society throughout the ages.
Television and radio are not as bad. They do not go for campaigns. But they also mislead and they increasingly follow the lead of the tabloids. That, I am afraid, is as true of the BBC as of the rest. Why, for example, do news stories day after day lead with the Bulger case? Or, to return to the theme of the debate, why do they seem to encourage the new obsession with what happens to parts of bodies after death? In fact, it is not a new obsession; it is rather a return to primitive concerns that the body should be kept whole for resurrection or have its obol in its mouth so that Charon can ferry it across the Acheron.
The broadcast media have an admirable desire to keep a balance, which is a very important principle. But as your Lordship's report observes, there are problems when they feel that two sides of a case must at all costs be presented, however shaky one side's case may be. For example, the BBC gave the impression in the MMR controversy that a study of 12 people was just as deserving of an airing as one of more than 1 million. That is where the SIRC code would secure a proper balance.
Of course, majority scientific opinion is not always right. But the media should give some guidance as regards the weight which should be placed on the minority view. In the case of climate change, that is recognised. The evidence of global warming is not overwhelming but it is growing stronger all the time. Partly because on that issue the environmental pressure groups agree with the majority view, the media, too, accept it. But the evidence that transgenic crops are safe is much stronger than the evidence in favour of climate change. In fact, there is no evidence of danger to health at all. Potential damage to biodiversity should of course be taken more seriously; it is a different question. Would anybody gather that from the media discussions?
As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, pointed out, part of the trouble is that pressure groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace come into the equation. They are treated by the media as objective commentators, unlike representatives of companies. They are no more objective than companies; they have their own agenda and are campaigning organisations which depend on membership income. Nothing increases membership more than sensational headlines about environmental scare stories.
On some issues such groups are admirable; on others, they adopt an anti-science stance. They oppose even state-of-the-art incinerators which actually decrease pollution; they oppose all transgenic crops which, on the evidence so far, are likely to diminish the use of herbicides and pesticides. On those issues they have committed themselves to beliefs which have assumed the status of dogma which cannot be shaken by any regard to the weight of evidence. Yet are they ever cross-examined by John Humphrys and co in the way they would cross-examine a representative from a biotech company or a politician? The pressure groups are treated with a kind of awesome reverence that is normally reserved--quite rightly--for right reverend Prelates. The same is often true of those who oppose all animal experiments. They are rarely challenged with any suggestion that their stance costs lives.
I do not for a moment allege that the broadcast media are consciously biased, but there is an element of sloppiness about their reporting of scientific issues and an underlying assumption that they must share the prejudices of the tabloids. Perhaps the most important thing to emerge from the report is the recommendation that we should secure compliance with the Royal Society guidelines, or perhaps with the SIRC code. I hope that the Press Complaints Commission will enforce this code toughly and come down heavily on the kind of irresponsible and reckless disregard for fact and evidence which has characterised the reporting of many scientific issues in the past.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I speak as someone who was not involved with this report, though I was a co-opted member of the sub-committee which recently produced the report on complementary and alternative medicine on which some of your Lordships also served. I have become increasingly interested in issues at the interface between medical and scientific orthodoxy and those outside the mainstream. In my early days in your Lordships' House I spoke a bit about human health and the environment; in fact my maiden speech was on that subject, on the same day as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I remember that after that debate he very kindly bought me a drink: I have an awful feeling that I have not yet reciprocated.
My first impression on reading this admirable report was how beautifully written it was. Clear, straightforward, concise English is something of a rarity, and when you find it it predisposes you to look sympathetically at the arguments. My reason for taking part today, however, is that there is one aspect of the relationship between science and society which I do not believe received a mention: or, if it did, the fault is mine for not reading carefully enough.
I think there are times when the problem lies not so much with a lack of comprehension by the public, nor with misleading treatment in the media, nor just with the perceptions referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, but with errors, either apparent or real, in the
Speaking 13 years ago on environmental dangers I drew attention to lead, mercury, asbestos, nuclear radiation, cigarette smoke and pesticides in the context of a pattern that seemed to repeat itself. I gave a kind of composite example, and said:
In this case there may have been few shortcomings in the science. But it would be helpful, I think, if the scientific community were able to say publicly, "Yes, we know we said 10 years ago that such-and-such a dose was entirely safe, and we are now saying we are not even sure about one-hundredth of that dose; but that really was the best consensus at the time, honestly and scrupulously arrived at, and the discrepancy is only in the nature of scientific progress". I believe this could do wonders for public trust and understanding.
Other examples I fear show scientists in a less favourable light. Just over 10 years ago a press conference was called in advance of publication in the medical press of a study which purported to show that patients who attended the innovative Bristol Cancer Help Centre fared worse and died sooner than those who had only orthodox treatment. That study was in fact fatally flawed, but its consequences nearly ruined the Bristol Centre and there are many in the world of complementary medicine who will never trust mainstream researchers again. It is true that some errors of methodology were later acknowledged in the medical press, but it needed more than that to restore equilibrium. The study itself has never been retracted.
Another example is more recent. It concerns the fluoridation of the public water supply. There are strongly held views on both sides of this debate. On the one side the dental and medical communities have been saying for over 40 years that this is a very effective and entirely safe way of protecting children's teeth from decay, and of evening out inequalities in dental health; and they have persuaded governments of both complexions. On the other side many of the public object to being compelled to drink fluoridated water at 1 part per million, and are suspicious of the claims for safety. This Government, to their credit, commissioned a systematic review--the ne plus ultra of evidence-based medicine and the first ever undertaken in this field--working to the highest international scientific
What has this done for public confidence in science and scientists? What lessons need to be learnt? Sir Iain Chalmers, head of the UK Cochrane Centre, with whom I discussed this last week, would like to see more and earlier systematic scientific reviews of the thoroughness and transparency of the York fluoridation exercise where the public could make their own input as the review progressed. I suggest that society also needs to recognise the fallibility of science--and so do scientists. A white coat is small protection against the prejudices, pressures and wishful thinking that are part of being human. But beyond this, in the context of today's debate, I have come to think that there needs to be some act of completion (if that is the right word) from the side of science when things have gone conspicuously wrong. The report rightly advises against condescension, and paragraph 3.9 puts this well; but it needs to go further. I could see nothing in the report about the possible role for a post-mortem--something less than a full public inquiry for major issues such as BSE. I think that scientists, if they want to win trust, cannot afford simply to go on as though nothing had happened.
To take the case of fluoridation, the better communication that the report on science in society endorses should involve a public admission which might be on the following lines: "Dentists and public health officials were too carried away at a time when the demands of evidence were not as rigorous as they are today, and have been so concerned to protect children from the miseries of dental decay that they went over the top in what seemed a good cause, and were not as careful about the science as they should have been, despite warnings from a number of people along the way. Appropriate lessons will be learnt". Without some such acknowledgement, trust will be hard to regain. It is my belief (and I do not know if research has been done on this subject) that the absence of any audible and visible come-back from the scientific community when errors have been made has fuelled the suspicions that many in our society now harbour. Someone needs to take responsibility. There is nothing like a frank acknowledgement for clearing the air and restoring relationships.
One final point. The report has many helpful things to say about the media; but again, I think it is a little kind to science in its assumptions about how journalists should behave. I do not disagree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, said, but my angle on this is a little different. My observation has been that when scientists go wrong, the media, and particularly print journalists, are sometimes asleep at
I also happen to think that journalists give medical scientists far too easy a ride over the absence of real progress in cancer research--the lack of "bangs for bucks" as the Lancet put it on 9th December--and the need for more open accountability to the funding public. What I am saying is that, perhaps in contrast to some of your Lordships, I would hope to see in any guidance for editors something more than the Royal Society has drafted for them in Box 3 on page 59 of the report: namely, that journalists should be careful not to hand over their judgment to scientists but should do their homework and learn enough to question and probe just as their economic, political and sports colleagues do. The Royal Society would like journalists to deal with scientists who are deemed "credible"--I understand that, and the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, emphasised this point--because they represent the majority view; but they must not rely solely on those sources, otherwise we might still be seeing acupuncture and osteopathy described as quackery, and fluoridation as the best thing since long before sliced bread.
I feel these points are important in getting the balance right between science and society, and I hope that COPUS will consider taking them into account (in parenthesis, I think the committee was wise to suggest a change of name for that body for the reasons it gave in pararaphs 3.18 and 3.19). But none of this detracts from my admiration for a report from which I have personally learnt a great deal, and which I hope is widely read and followed up; and, from what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has told us the auguries for this seem to be good.
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I share other speakers' universal commendation of this very important report. The report was published some months ago now. During that period it has proved highly influential, not just in Parliament but a long way outside.
I should like to contribute a few remarks as a layman who has been involved--perhaps some would say interfering--in science policy over a number of years. My background is that in the 1980s I chaired the Agriculture and Food Research Council; and, indeed, for a period I was one of the predecessors of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, as chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology.
We all recognise that science has changed dramatically in its attitude to society. The very phrase "public understanding of science" is no longer common parlance, although in the highly influential White Paper of 1993, only seven or eight years ago, inspired by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave and Professor Bill Stewart, it was the language of the time. As suggested by my noble friend Lord Jenkin, we have moved on from eyes and ears to dialogue. That is very much the message which comes out of the report.
There is bound to be concern at times about the progress of science and the implications of science or technology. It arises fundamentally when people do not understand whether the implementation or the execution of the science chimes happily with prevailing values. Where, however, it is seen to be in conformity with commonly held values there is usually not a great deal of long-term concern. As the report points out, we see this with human health care, a subject that people identify as being of high priority. Where the research is seen to contribute to human healthcare it usually gets stronger support, whereas in areas such as plant genetic modification for food and perhaps even nuclear physics and cloning the examples are not always so obviously understood.
Where adequate dialogue has taken place around the world, one gets a much more sophisticated debate than scientists perhaps five or 10 years ago would have thought feasible. I take as an example the referendum held in Switzerland on genetic modification. That country had a considerable stake in the biotechnology industry. It was determined to hold a referendum to see whether or not the industry should be continued and supported in that country. A national debate took place which involved a wide cross-section of the community. Indeed, the debate was very well informed.
I am not an expert on the Swiss tabloid press. I claim to know nothing about it, but I suspect that one would not have had headlines about "Frankenstein foods" and so on, because the public simply would not have tolerated that level of engagement. But where one does not conduct a dialogue, then these stories of "Frankenstein foods" and so on gain credence. Although I have no brief for our own media, I suspect that in the long run the only way to stop irresponsible media handling of such stories is to ensure widespread dialogue with institutional assumptions of openness and transparency, listening as well as contributing to the dialogue. That culture will ultimately ensure that the debate is conducted at the right level in all media.
Until relatively recently physical scientists did not adequately engage with the social scientists. My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to this matter. I remember about 10 or more years ago the Royal Society's seminal paper on Risk Assessment--Risk Perception.
Four years ago I had the slightly unenviable task, I thought, of chairing a conference at Lancaster House on genetic modification attended by 300 people ranging from, at one extreme, the Natural Law Party, through to Zeneca and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Before the conference three workshop sessions were held on separate days; one for medical health; one for bioremediation; and one for food and agriculture. From this preparation and background it was clear again that the concept that if the rationale for the science can be understood and the risk seen to be equitable, then there will be support. But one has to demonstrate what the rationale for this research might be. In the case of human health-- genetically modified vaccines where the risk is carried by those who are likely to benefit--not surprisingly there was very little controversy. At the other end of the spectrum, where the benefit would be carried by the shareholder of an agri-chemical company and the risk, if there were any, would be carried by, say, the European consumer, not unnaturally people thought this a rather poor deal.
Had the debate been concerned with enriching vitamin A--for example, rice--which is a perfectly logical application of this science, then the debate on plant genetic modification would have been rather better understood by some parties. It is the fault of the biotechnology industry that in its wisdom it chose to produce plants which were manipulated to be herbicide tolerant. In public relation terms, that was certainly not very clever.
I was a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which is quoted on page 23 of the 21st report, Setting Environmental Standards. We tried to set out how the policymaker should recognise and encourage the articulation of public values. If science has ultimately to be informed by public values, it is a complicated and difficult exercise. One is bound to get conflicting views, sometimes from the same person, depending on which interest that person might be representing. One is bound to get a wide variation of views. We need to learn much more about creating a framework for conducting that debate, one which allows everyone to participate if they want to.
Since that seminal White Paper, to which I referred, things have moved on rapidly. On page 37 of the report, there is a whole list of different ways of conducting consultation at national and local levels. Perhaps I may draw from my own experience. I am currently chairman of the United Kingdom Chemical Stakeholder Forum. We bring together all interested parties--the chemical industry, conservation organisations, consumers and so on. I find it most humbling and interesting how, in discussion over a period of days, we achieve a much better understanding of where everyone is coming from. If this culture of openness, transparency, dialogue and information is to be adequately understood, we have to demonstrate that the kind of sensible policy statements put out by Sir Robert May in The Use of Scientific Advice in Policy Making have been taken on board--not just in our government departments but in Europe as well. My suspicion, alas, is that the European Commission has still a long way to go to understand what is meant by transparency and openness.
The report has done an enormous service in demonstrating that the public can and must be involved in the formulation of strategies rather than merely consulted on already draft proposals. It means a complete change of culture and looking again at our institutional terms of reference. I commend the Select Committee on Science and Technology on this magnificent report.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, this careful and balanced report from the Select Committee is to be warmly commended for the adequacy of its review and the good sense of its recommendations. I want to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for the clarity of his introduction and to say also how much I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave. I have just a few comments which I hope will contribute to the important debate we are having today.
In considering science and society, and the relationship between them, one can easily conceptualise two very distinct groups--that of scientists, and that of members of society. The report does that and indeed identifies a third, distinctive group; that is those who work in the media. The energy of the report is given to seeing how scientists may be brought into a better relationship with members of society. Considerable space is given to seeing how the media can help, or hinder, that process. Simply put, it is like trying to make two into one, with the media acting as the go-between.
The dichotomy between scientists and society can be seen as a philosophical divide, with the scientists in the consequentialist or utilitarian corner, the public in the right-based or consumerist corner, and the media fuelling the differences. Scientists by necessity have to adopt consequentialist thinking, because the effects of their new discoveries cannot be known until they are
The public, in the other corner, represent human need and desire and fear. Their world is summed up by the statement, "It is my right to assert that if I don't want something, I don't have to have it". Respect for such individual autonomy acts as a counterbalance to unbridled utilitarianism. That is to say, if people do not want something, there is no point arguing that it will make them happy, and forcing it upon them. Often individual, right-based claims are selfish and "NIMBYish", but sometimes they are unexpectedly wise. Ignoring them for the sake of a predicted, future, greater good can be perilous.
Seen in these lights, the two camps are really very different in their approaches and their values. But, as the report recognises, things are not that black and white. There is sensitivity to public concern among scientists, who are in any case frequently funded by commercial organisations that have to have an eye to consumer demand. There is more sophistication among the public, a public sometimes only too willing strangely to surrender individual claims for the sake of the common good. The two groups, despite philosophical differences, are closer to each other than the media, which highlight differences to create that frictional spark that makes the headline, frequently portray.
So rather than try to make the two one, I should like to suggest some uniting factors between the two groups. The obvious uniting factor is that every member of each group--and indeed the media--is a human being; and every one of us, in my terms, is a child of God. This, I would argue, grants us all three qualities that are relevant to finding a meeting place for scientists and the public. These are, first, the desire for truth; secondly, the experience of wonderment; and thirdly, the need to face the challenge of behaving morally, or, again in my particular terms, to discover the will of God.
The point at which a scientist is simply trying to discover the truth about phenomena is not a point within a moral framework, because he or she is not trying to do anyone any good, but only to find out more. At that stage scientists are not utilitarians. They are, like the rest of us in other fields, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, reminded us, seekers after truth. When some new fact is uncovered, they, like us, when we read about
Scientific discovery, of course, quickly becomes scientific application, especially in the realms of bioscience and communications technology. That is the point at which the moral struggle begins, as we all try to work out what is right and wrong. That activity of discernment, like the search for truth and the experience of wonder, is the birthright of every human being. It does not lie merely within the provenance of the so-called expert ethicists, although help can often be sought from such quarters; and at this point, neither compelling utilitarianism nor unbridled consumerism will suffice to light the ethical path; nor can decisions about the application of scientific discoveries be made quickly. Here again I commend the possibility of a meeting place for scientists, society and the media, a place where we are all united in our aim to discern the good.
I want to suggest that any steps that are taken by government to meet the challenges posed by this report should start by identifying these uniting factors and our common cause as humanity with the care of the planet largely in our hands. Better surely to start where we agree than to try to make us compromise on our differences.
Lord Stone of Blackheath: My Lords, I found the report to be extremely readable, timely, focused and pragmatic. However, as we have already heard, even the title demonstrates a separation that is damaging; namely, the separation of "science" and "society", a theme upon which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln has just expanded. In my contribution I wish to illustrate how, by describing certain personal experiences, when science is included within society, it can be beneficial both to science and society. I shall cite examples from business and from aesthetics to show how science can be a tool for peace and for democracy--which I realise may be a little ambitious to complete in 10 minutes, but I shall try to achieve it.
In business over a period of 30 years, I found that I had a knack of encouraging diverse people to work together. That may have been because I do not have many talents of my own, so perhaps this work acted as a substitute. My job was to create £8 billion-worth of goods to produce and distribute for 50 million customers in 32 different countries. The main creative force for this work comprised two groups of people: scientists in their applied form, as technologists; and artists in their applied form, as designers.
Unfortunately, technologists often believe that designers are airy-fairy, wet and vague, while designers believe that technologists are dull, boring and aggressive. Getting them to work together was extremely difficult. When eventually they did come to appreciate each other's talents and worked together,
If applied scientists and applied artists find it difficult to work together in technology and design, then how much more difficult is this when we consider pure, fine art and pure, theoretical science? Only a week ago I attended a concert performed by a fantastic orchestra called Sinfonia 21. The performers have deliberately chosen to work in Imperial College. They are sited in the middle of our metropolis so that they can work with the Royal College of Art, the Science Museum and technologists at Imperial College in order to examine the confluence between art and science. They have received funding to create a website. Talented young scientists and artists can access the website to create new instruments, listen to them and then compose on those futuristic designs. While there, I met Michael Portillo, who is involved with the orchestra, in particular with its outreach programme. That demonstrates how science can bring together people of diverse opinions.
On a more serious note, it is often held that science is a tool for war rather than for peace. On the other hand, a few months ago the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury introduced a debate which suggested that religion was a force for order and a tool for preventing disorder in the world. In that debate, a number of noble Lords disagreed somewhat and stated in terms that, "It depends on how it is used". In the same manner, depending on how it is used, science is a tool either for war or for peace. I recall that my noble friend Lord Sieff of Brimpton, a guide and mentor to me for 30 years, said that science, art and commerce ignore international boundaries, cross borders and bring together people in understanding and peace.
When he, along with his family and many other people, were working to create the state of Israel in the first part of the last century, they were concerned that science should be inculcated within that society. To that end, they created such institutions as the Weizmann Institute, bringing in scientists from all over the world. That institute now collaborates with 25 different countries. They created also the Volcani Institute to apply science to agricultural practices; the Schenkar College of Textile Technology and Design put scientists with designers, while the Teknion institute brings together scientists and engineers. All of those institutions in Israel work in collaboration with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco to try to cross borders and make peace.
I should like to mention democracy and science. The report states that people feel they are being by-passed on critical issues, not only in the development of science but also in government, as well as on crucial issues concerning their own personal health. They feel excluded from the debate. A small organisation called Dipex, based in Oxford, works with medical professors, clinical pharmacologists and people from the film and media world. It is putting together a series of interviews with people suffering from life-threatening diseases. Others diagnosed with similar illnesses may now access the Web and listen to fellow
If science and art need to work together harmoniously in so many different fields, why do we separate them into two opposing cultures in children's minds so early in their education, something about which C.P. Snow forewarned us many years ago? I had the honour and pleasure of serving with a group of unbelievably talented scientists, artists and educationists on the National Advisory Committee for Creativity and Culture in Education. It reported to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith. The committee members considered the problem of how to build on creativity in literacy and numeracy in education. The report concluded that,
Another project designed to highlight science for young people is to be introduced later this year. I know that my noble friend Lord Puttnam would have liked to speak on this, but he is away in Berlin today. As the chairman of NESTA, he is creating "Science Year" which aims to alter permanently the general attitude towards science, in particular among young people. The hope is that a culture will be created which is more generally technical and scientific in aspiration and content, but which also demonstrates how science exists within and in society. The "year" is due to begin in September. Another bonus of this project is that it will bring together the DfEE, the DTI and the DCMS.
The Science and Technology Committee report describes a serious, potentially destructive and divisive trend within our society that must be addressed urgently in the way suggested. Society has a malicious tendency to vilify a group of people, in particular when it is possible to identify some from within that group who have used abusively their special powers. Where a definable group of people are the holders of huge, powerful and complex concepts, when those that hold them are difficult to understand, when they use a separate language and sometimes do not mix well, they can be frightening to those on the outside. Fear turns to prejudice and that prejudice can lead to persecution; even in these enlightened times this may be so. Transparency, truth and greater contact can bring about better understanding, allay fears and engender respect.
This report, along with the work of Sinfonia 21 at Imperial College, Dipex in Oxford and the Weizmann Institute in Israel, along with the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, about which my noble friend Lord Bragg will speak later in the debate, and other enlightened bodies, must be supported by business and individuals, by charitable donations and trusts and by
Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, we are at the start of a new millennium which, like the century past, will be dominated by scientific and technological discovery and change. Who in 1900 could have imagined the modern home? Domestic drudgery ruled then, but the applications of electricity have almost eliminated it. Refrigerators, telephones, radio, television and vacuum cleaners are almost universal and people do not worry about using them.
The vast majority of people travel on holiday reasonably happily by air. If not, wide ownership of the motor car gives them the freedom to travel the UK and the rest of Europe. There are risks involved, as we all know, but we accept them.
In hospitals, people queue for knee and hip operations that they would not have contemplated 20 years ago when the outcome was far more uncertain. Hospitals could not run successfully without the inventions and discoveries of engineering, medicine and science working together, as the previous speaker said. Replacement joints, ultra sound, X-rays, incubators to save the lives of premature babies, kidney machines, aids for the handicapped; the list is endless.
Always with new developments, a few people have the courage to experiment and to improve the new inventions. Later, as people hear of their success, they gather confidence and take their use for granted and want to benefit from them. If we, as a country and internationally, are to progress in caring for people's health and in wealth creation to improve people's quality of life and to protect the environment, we need to continue those developments and to benefit from inventions as yet unimaginable. The man on the moon in the last century; where in the next one?
That means a proper dialogue between scientists, engineers and technologists and the public in all its diversity. Neither side can afford to hide its head in the sand, ostrich like, but both must realise that dialogue has difficulties and will involve give and take and learning from discussion on both sides. I hope therefore that our report will help that dialogue.
We were very grateful to all our witnesses, who posed the problems but in general wanted to find solutions for the future. We are grateful also to our chairman, our Clerk and our advisers. We are all very glad to see our chairman back in his place today.
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