The winner of the Aventis Science Book Prize has offered to give his £10,000 prize money to the family of David Kelly, the government scientist who committed suicide following his work into weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
David Bodanis, whose Electric Universe won first prize for adult category, said that Dr Kelly represented the sort of political betrayal of science that Bodanis portrays in his book.
"The key reason is that he basically spoke the truth and he died for it. It sounds over the top but it really is the case," Dr Bodanis, 49, said. "Here was a guy whose life was committed to science, and to finding the truth. His essence was to do careful, solid research and yet he entered into this awful world of 'the Lobby' and little whispered comments and dropped names.
"Dr Kelly ended up being confronted with this awful political power which had no interest in the truth and he ended up dying. That was very poignant to me," Dr Bodanis said.Before becoming a full-time science author, Dr Bodanis taught at Oxford University. He was born in Chicago but has lived and worked in Britain for more than 20 years.
He said he decided to donate the prize money almost on the spur of the moment during the awards ceremony at the Royal Society on Tuesday night.
But he was influenced by a conversation he had with a close friend in the Army who has just come back from a tour of duty in Iraq.
"He said that the whole thing there is utterly misconceived," Dr Bodanis said. "It was impossible to find out what the mission was and they feel they are there under false pretences. There is one sort of false pretence where you genuinely don't know, and there is another where a guy is quietly trying to tell you the truth and yet you wilfully block them and destroy them.
"We found three years later that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. People were genuninely worried about a tyrant with weapons of mass destruction and they were misled."
The history of scientific discovery is littered with examples of individuals in search of the truth who were ridiculed or suppressed by political authority, Dr Bodanis said.
"I realised in writing my Electric Universe book that science is never really separate from politics," he said. "Scientists may try to use science in some way or other, but politicians try to use it in another way or use it in the wrong way.
"But the essence of science is that whenever obstacles are put in its way, the truth will eventually prevail. That's what Dr Kelly's life showed us."
The author has never met the Kelly family and he said he hopes that his gesture does not cause them any further distress.
"I myself lost my father when I was young and there may be a cash problem," he said. "This is just for them to know that if they either feel in financial need, or they can use it in any way they want, perhaps for something in his name.
"I feel that it is the least I can do for the memory of Dr Kelly and also for all the other scientists who have ever suffered for the truth."Reuse content