Letters: Scrutinising science
Monday 05 July 1999
Sir: Lewis Wolpert's view that scientists should be left alone to get on with their work betrays him as the kind of blinkered scientist who gives science a bad name ("The sociologists of science should shut up", 2 July).
Why should science, as human activity, be immune from any kind of critical scrutiny from others? After all, scientific research is not just some neutral activity carried out by unprogrammed robots. As the science writer Colin Tudge warned not long ago, what will happen (in the context of research) is what the rich and powerful want to happen. Research will hide behind commercial confidentiality and the blinkered scientist, dazzled by the imperative - we can do it therefore we must do it - will go where the big money is to ensure that this happens.
Wolpert clings too much to the dogma that science is neutral. Does he really believe that "neutral science" produced napalm and, more recently, the infamous terminator gene?
Sir: Why? There's a question science finds difficult to answer. What is good or bad? There is another.
The idea that science can give answers to everything is absurd. We have to live our lives with relatively little understanding of how the universe works. What Lewis Wolpert offers is scientism, a belief in the ultimate invulnerability of science, rather than science.
The writer is a senior lecturer in Physiology at University College London
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