Science is as important as (but not more than) Shakespeare

Kate: Should people think you are a ‘philistine’ if you say you’re not interested in science like they might if you said the same of Shakespeare? Popular science writer Lord Robert Winston thinks so. When interviewed on the ABC’s Lateline program recently, Lord Winston suggested that Science is too important to our lives to think that you can get away with saying something like ‘oh I didn’t do chemistry in school’ when topics of science are discussed. However it’s OK to keep science in its place alongside other aspects of society because the VALUE of science to society should be considered more ‘modestly’ than it sometimes is.

“There’s a notion amongst many scientists that science is the truth. Science is only really a version of the truth. Actually, the more we explore the universe, it’s very clear the more there is to understand about it that we don’t understand.” (Lord Robert Winston, ABC LATELINE Interview 2010)

Lord Winston’s new book Bad Ideas: An Arresting History of Our Inventions’ puts scientific advances in their social and historical contexts and looks at the way new technology can have unintended consequences.

For example:

  • agriculture feeds millions but has led to new diseases
  • antibiotics both kill and cure,
  • genetics raises the spectre of eugenics  and
  • GMfoods could conceivably sometimes promote famine.

When you look at the history of most inventions the real use of them is generally not perceived at the time, which can involve both negative (and positive!) implications. With this in mind scientists can be less concerned about skepticism and with technological advances ought to consider where there might need to be safeguards for society.

Lord Winston is supporting notions of an open and engaged science. That is a science that acknowledges its place in society by communicating publicly and listening to social concerns. This could include a willingness to explain methods, release data AND address errors.  Especially for contentious issues like climate change a willingness to engage and explain (rather than a somewhat arrogant stance of dismissing criticism, even if it is vastly overstated and unfair) should help promote, rather than undermine trust in science.


  1. Good to go back to one of the original sources from the discussion we reported earlier from Andrew Maynard’s post

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