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

Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
News
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Life & Style
On the dogwalk: a poodle on the runway during a Mulberry show in London
fashionThe duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
News
peopleEmma Appleton says photographer said he would shoot her for magazine if she slept with him
Extras
indybest
News
peopleRevealed: Goop.com's losses - and the pay rises
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents