Peter Briggs

The chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science responds to a leading article about the role scientists should play in ethical debates
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The Independent Online

Scientists are less trusted than they were to make the right decisions about human cloning, embryo research or genetically modified food, according to your leader of 9 September ("Scientists must lead the public debate over the ethics of their work"). But making decisions about the uses to which science should be put has never been the job of scientists alone.

Scientists are less trusted than they were to make the right decisions about human cloning, embryo research or genetically modified food, according to your leader of 9 September ("Scientists must lead the public debate over the ethics of their work"). But making decisions about the uses to which science should be put has never been the job of scientists alone.

Such matters are for the community to decide on and, in the end, that means politicians. Scientists can provide advice, but no public issue can or should be decided on the basis of scientific evidence alone.

There will always be other dimensions. This is why public discussion on the issues being thrown up by rapid advances in science and technology is crucial - on that we entirely agree. And just as the BA works with the media to identify stories to catch the headlines, so we must work together to create debates that appeal to journalists. But this is not just our responsibility.

It is not that there has not been debate at this year's festival of science - there has. But in media terms it does not constitute news. The media is primarily a one-way communication channel and its use of attention-grabbing headlines tends to promote the adversarial approach to issues so beloved of UK institutions. Such an approach usually generates more heat than light.

Scientists and others, including pressure groups, need to engage in constructive discussion rather than just trading insults. That is what we are trying to achieve, not just in our festival but throughout the year.

So come on, The Independent, work with us to explore a means of discussion that will work for the media, the public and scientists, and so engage large numbers of people on all sides of the debate.

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