Scientists work hard to bridge the cultural divide

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: Bryan Appleyard, in attempting to explain the sorry state of British science, questions the 'triumphalist propaganda of modern science' and asserts that 'promoting science as some kind of pure, virtuous entity' is 'politically counter-productive and palpably false'. I can assure him that there are far worse examples than those quoted in his article.

In the world of advertising, truth is a rare commodity and the promotion of science is little different from that of any other product. You may recall BP's spectacular and hugely expensive television advertisement (directed by Ridley Scott) in which a pizza delivery boy travels through a series of dazzling research departments. The implication is clear - that BP is a company that it committed to bringing its customers the latest technological developments through scientific innovation.

Well, that was the implication anyway. At the same time as the advertisement was launched, BP was making hundreds of scientists redundant, scrapping virtually all medium- and long-term research, and carving up its corporate research centres into a series of 'business-orientated' service groups. The advertisement was a gross insult to all the research staff - particularly those facing unemployment.

However, the advertisement was a great success. It sold more BP petrol and improved the company's image, particularly across the Atlantic. Clearly, the promotion of an idealised technological image was perceived to be more cost-effective than actually 'doing' the science. Of course, the flaw in the tactic will become all too obvious in the long term.

It is cases like this that Mr Appleyard should be concerned about, rather than a few celebrity scientists making a quick buck. The vast majority of scientists would love to be 'doers', but their efforts are shackled by the twin evils of poor funding and short-termism.

Yours faithfully,




27 May