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Science 'failing to keep its promises'

Modern science has failed and brought more diseases together with the destruction of the environment, according to a leading American biologist.

Professor Richard Levins said there had been impressive achievements in modern science but also dramatic failures including: the appearance of new diseases such as toxic shock syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome as well as the resurgence of old ones such as malaria and cholera; increased stress, anxiety, overwork and unemployment caused by industrial design which was intended to result in greater efficiency; new pest problems created by pesticides which poisoned the natural habitat and new pathogens created by antibiotics which were resistant to drugs.

In a lecture in Edinburgh where he was being presented with the annual Edinburgh Medal and pounds 5,000 for his work, the Professor of Population Sciences at Harvard School of Public Health criticised science for being driven to make new discoveries without considering the consequences.

He said science should be revitalised to take account of the long-term effects on society. "We have bred plants and animals to fit our technologies, invented new ways of commu- nicating and of diagnosing diseases and predicting the weather. But science also has had dramatic failures ... promises of understanding and progress have not been kept, and the application of science to human affairs has often done great harm," he said.

It was no surprise there had been an anti-science backlash with research spending cuts and young people turning away from the subject, Professor Levins said. In his appeal for a new approach he called for scientists to change their attitude.