Lewis Wolpert: 'Science can be beautiful, amazing, the best way to try to understand the world'

Science needs your help. We need to find a way to bring the general public and scientists closer together so that they can understand each other better, helping to lead to sensible decisions about both science and those applications of it that affect our lives.

Science needs your help. We need to find a way to bring the general public and scientists closer together so that they can understand each other better, helping to lead to sensible decisions about both science and those applications of it that affect our lives. There have been attempts to do this, but I'm not persuaded that any have been successful, and there has been little research to find out if they actually had useful results.

The issue of mutual trust is central. Science can be beautiful, amazing, the best way of trying to understand the world. But it is difficult. My own claim is that if an idea fits with common sense, then it is almost certainly scientifically false. It is as clear as day, for example, that the Sun goes round the Earth. The world is just not built on a common-sense basis.

Unfortunately, there is no one simple description of the scientific method, other than that of finding reliable evidence to explain events. There is only one correct explanation for any set of observations - and there are many styles of doing science. Scientists themselves can be remarkably ignorant of work outside their special fields, so non-scientists can easily be alienated by science. For most Members of Parliament and senior civil servants, science is an alien culture.

Max Perutz, a molecular biologist, said: "The people in the humanities have been regarded as carriers of civilisation, and the scientists have been regarded as plumbers." I am, myself, a plumber.

If the good fairy offered to fulfil three wishes, what would I ask for? First, to make clear that reliable science is universal, with neither political nor cultural bias; it is also value-free, and ethical issues only arise when it is applied and affects our lives, from medicine to industry. My second wish would be that everyone should know how to get the best information on the scientific issues that affect their lives, such as genetic engineering. It is essential that these issues are open to informed public debate. It would be disastrous if they were left to doctors, scientists or engineers, or politicians.

My third wish would be for scientists to be more integrated into our cultural life. This may mean them appearing on chat shows, revealing that they are not culture- and character-free. This idea appalled a very senior BBC friend, who regarded it as demeaning to science, equivalent to entering the circus ring hanging on an elephant's tail and wearing a red nose.

The Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, is aware of these problems and is developing a Science and Society agenda. A key aim is to consider regulatory issues that science and its applications, such as GM foods and stem cells, raise before they are put into practice. People's concerns about these new technologies must be acknowledged.

So that is why I would appreciate your help. Let me hear your views. Do you want, for example, to have more information about areas in biology relating to cloning, stem cells, BSE, GM foods or antidepressants? How do you regard areas in physics, such as nuclear energy or nanotechnology? Are there other areas of concern? How best could the information be obtained? What should be the process by which regulations are made, and how should the public and scientists be involved? Do you think that scientists are responsible for the application of their discoveries? Could you give examples of science being explained well to you? And is direct personal contact with scientists the best way forward? Please e-mail your views to me at l.wolpert@ucl.ac.uk.

Professor Wolpert is professor of biology as applied to medicine at University College London

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee