Letter: Science must talk to the people

Share
Related Topics
Sir: Trevor Phillips is right to identify the social control of science as a key problem for the next century ("Who will be the master of the science genie?", 19 July); and he is also right to see greater openness on the part of scientists, greater understanding of science by non-scientists, and avoiding over-reliance on the courts as important ingredients in its eventual solution. But I'm not sure that his advice to the Prime Minister to hand the issue over to "someone with the right qualifications" (whatever those might be) is particularly helpful.

The question is: how can we facilitate better democratic decision-making about socially sensitive issues arising out of science and technology? The answer is: by facilitating greater public participation in the relevant decision-making processes. If we persist in relying upon small numbers of supposed experts, be they natural scientists, social scientists, or policy-makers, the result will be further public disenchantment with science and with politics.

Across Europe, the hunt is on for new ways of involving the public in debate and decision-making about science and technology. Experiments are being conducted with citizens' juries, consensus conferences, deliberative opinion polls, people's parliaments and other formats that promise to bring experts and non-experts together to deliberate about public policy.

If science is to be placed at the service of democracy, then scientists and non-scientists must learn to do business together despite obvious inequalities of knowledge and expertise. We need to create new forums in which people can come together on equal terms. The new information technologies may help here, but in the end the key to success will be the political will to create new kinds of democratic institution.

JOHN DURANT

Assistant Director, The Science Museum

Professor of Public Understanding of Science, Imperial College, London

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Developer/UI Developer (HTML5, CSS3,Jquery) London

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

C# Web Developer (C#, MS Dynamics CRM, SQL, SQl Server) London

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Oracle developer- (Oracle, PL/SQL, UNIX/LINUX) - Trade- London

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the global leaders in prov...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Scottish independence: ‘I am as British and European as Scottish’

Sir Menzies Campbell
 

We should applaud Mary Berry for her bold views on assisted dying

Chloe Hamilton
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering