Sunday, 9 September 2007

What are the barriers to science in the 21st century?

What are the barriers to science in the 21st century?
Sunday 4.00pm until 5.30pm Lecture Theatre 1 Battle for Science

In recent years, the UK government has trumpeted the importance of science. Tony Blair described himself as ‘born-again’ on the subject and Gordon Brown, while still Chancellor, opened up the coffers. But the money available to scientific research seems to come at a price. Scientists are increasingly expected to fulfil demands that are less about the pursuit of knowledge than the instrumental benefits – and potential ethical perils – of their research. Today’s scientists are expected to keep one eye on the ‘knowledge transfer’ potential of their work and another on possible risks. Questions about the likely benefits for the economy, healthcare or the environment are high on funding bodies’ minds, as are questions about the likelihood of ‘success’.

Are these reasonable demands to make of scientists? Should the public funding of basic science be tied to potential beneficial outcomes for society, or are we closing down possibilities by asking science to deliver prematurely? What barriers does science face in the 21st century and what can we do to challenge them? Is a more open ended approach to the pursuit of knowledge possible, and if so is it desirable?


Dr Ruth McKernan
vice president, external research - Europe, Pfizer Global R&D
Dr Bill Durodie
senior lecturer in risk and corporate security, Cranfield University
Dr Evan Harris, MP
MP, Oxford West and Abingdon; Liberal Democrat science spokesperson; member, Science and Technology Select Committee
Professor Monica Grady
professor of planetary and space sciences, Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, Open University
Tony Gilland
science and society director, Institute of Ideas

Produced by

Tony Gilland
science and society director, Institute of Ideas
Recommended readings

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The high visibility afforded to science on the other side of the Atlantic is impressive, demonstrating that the subject can capture the imagination of the mainstream
Sir Richard Sykes, A Scientific Vision for the 21st Century, Newton's Apple, 15 October 2006

Enemies of Science
The biggest threat to science doesn't come from the extremist who burns down farms in solidarity with research animals. It comes from those who claim to respect the way science creates knowledge, but then misinterpret, distort or ignore that knowledge.
Alok Jha, Guardian, 12 November 2006

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By continuing to opt out of human space exploration, Britain will lose its best chance to show children how exciting science can be.
Alok Jha, Guardian, 29 October 2006

Masters of the universe
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Robin McKie, Guardian, 26 May 2007

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recommended by spiked

Keeping the research in an embryonic state
John Gillott, 20 March 2007

Standing up for science
James Heartfield, 6 December 2006

Time to stop monkeying around
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