Friends disunited on the place of religion in science

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The Independent Online

It's the sort of potential fall-out you would normally expect to see between a couple of potty-mouthed television chefs.

Robert Winston, one of our foremost scientific scholars, has launched a daring broadside at his colleague, the esteemed biologist Richard Dawkins.

In an apparently unprovoked attack, Winston has accused Dawkins of bringing science "into disrepute" because of his refusal to "connect with spirituality".

The dispute between the two comes after the pair appeared in last year's BBC programme, The Story of God, in which Dawkins, a committed atheist, challenged Winston's religious beliefs.

"When you look at it, Richard sometimes doesn't seem to understand the limitations of science," Winston said.

"He actually believes science is the truth - which is absolute rubbish.

"Richard is someone I admire and is probably a better writer than I am, but really scientists just need to be more modest about what we can achieve.

"Far from being the root of all evil, as has been suggested, religion has been a highly useful force - otherwise it would have died out."

Winston's remarks came at a talk he was giving last week at the Edinburgh Festival. They came as a particular surprise to a number of members of the audience since the two scientists have also been known to be good friends.

It's not known what Dawkins makes of his friend's remarks. When I tried to contact him, he didn't respond.

Heather shows she won't be cowed

As reports over her ongoing divorce wranglings will testify, Heather Mills McCartney is not a woman easily intimidated by the risk of a good old courtroom scrap.

In a recent interview, she's fired both barrels at the National Dairy Council, who she accuses of manipulating research over links between eating dairy products and cancer.

"The dairy council is currently quoting one scientific review that shows no increased risk of breast cancer from eating dairy products, but they might even protect against it. In fact it it clearly says that some dairy products may increase the risk of cancer," she says.

"It simply ignored the bits it didn't like and misquoted the others."

Her comments, which appear in this month's edition of Allergy magazine, make strong reading and are presumably potentially libellous.

"We've contacted the magazine and they've agreed to print a strong letter in the next edition," says a Dairy Council spokesman.

Writer takes stick to Stone

Oliver Stone is being rightly lauded for his portrayal of the 9/11 attacks in his new film, World Trade Center, but not everyone is keen to heap praise on the controversial film director.

Up at the Edinburgh festival, British screenwriter Christopher Hampton recalls working with Stone as an experience best forgotten about.

"I was hired by Warner Bros to write a screenplay on the Vietnam book A Bright and Shining Lie," says Hampton, who once won an Oscar for his script for Dangerous Laisons.

"They brought in Oliver Stone to direct which I wasn't happy about.

"I had lots of meetings with him and tried to work along the line he was indicating, with not a lot of success. He kept having these utterly inappropriate ideas.

"In the end, it never got made."

Green screen

Zac Goldsmith's admirable attempt to paint a thick green line through the Conservative Party continues apace.

I hear Goldsmith has arranged a special screening in a couple of weeks time of Al Gore's new documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, for his colleagues on David Cameron's new Quality of Life commission.

The former US vice-president is currently on worldwide promotional duties for the film, an exposition of the effects of global warming, which has been well received since its release in the United States.

America's most respected film critic, Roger Ebert recently wrote: "You owe it to yourself to see this film."

Old rockers form a new alliance

Time was when an ageing rock star wanted to stick an upturned finger to the authorities, he'd join a peace march. These days, he joins the Countryside Alliance.

The latest rocker to join the ranks is former Roxy Music saxophonist Andy Mackay.

Which means the Alliance now boasts something of a supergroup - Mackay's former bandmate Bryan Ferry, Eric Clapton and Roger Waters are all signed-up supporters of the green welly brigade.

"I have always been rather anti-authoritarian," Mackay tells this month's edition of Field magazine. I just find it amazing how this government has tried to squash what they think to be a minority of country supporters with what they thought was a majority.

"Instead, they have turned many people like me who, in the Sixties, didn't think much about hunting and shooting, into committed supporters."