BBC NEWS
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: Science/Nature: Specials: Sheffield 99  
News Front Page
World
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
UK Politics
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Education
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
CBBC News
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Sheffield 99 Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Scientists to answer critics
Science ass 300 header
Science has never been under such close scrutiny
By BBC Science's Toby Murcott

One of the world's largest and most diverse scientific conferences gets under way on Monday.

Festival of Science
But the annual Festival of the British Association for the Advancement of Science is being held under a cloud amid increasing concern about the speed of scientific developments.

genetically modified tomatoes
Opposition to genetically-modified food is on the increase
The yearly meeting, this year being held in Sheffield, brings together scientists from all over the world to showcase their work and debate the big questions, such as what is human nature or is genetically modified food safe?

We live in a period of rapid scientific and technological advances - 10 years ago, for instance, mobile phones were huge and hugely expensive.

Now they are tiny and millions of people own one.

Concern over GM foods

Genes that cause cancer have been discovered, and space flight has become almost routine.

But there is growing concern that the advance of science is causing problems rather than solving them.

Public opposition to genetically modified food is on the rise, education authorities in Kansas in the United States have brought into question the teaching of evolution and advances in cloning technology have raised huge ethical issues about the cloning of human beings.

Breakdown in communication

The growing emphasis on negative aspects of science has drawn criticism from the association's president, Sir Richard Sykes, who is also the chief executive of the multinational drugs company Glaxo-Wellcome.

He is concerned that there is a breakdown in communication between scientists and the public. But who is responsible?

Dolly the cloned sheep
Dolly the cloned sheep: human cloning raises huge ethical questions
Sir Richard said: "I don't think anyone is really to blame. The public should be concerned, there is no question about that, but they should be concerned in an atmosphere of understanding.

"It mustn't be fear. It must be concern. And therefore we change fear into concern by getting knowledge across to people, by getting understanding and by making sure they have access to the facts."

And that is the point of the festival: to give scientists a chance to talk to the world about their work.

It hasn't always been that way. When the British Association started over 160 years ago the annual meeting was where the great scientific breakthroughs of the day were announced.

Changing lives

Today, the main innovations are reported in scientific journals. Richard Sykes believes this gives the BA's annual festival a chance to focus on improving science's relationship with the public.

He said: "It isn't a meeting to say that these are the groundbreaking events that have happened last week. It is to really stand back and to say where are we today in this tremendous period in which we live.

"What are the scientific and technological advances that are helping us change our lives? What are we looking to in the future?"

As the scientists gather in Sheffield for the last meeting of the millennium, they will be aware that science has never been under such close scrutiny, and that the need to explain its intricacies has never been so pressing.

See also:

18 Feb 99 | Food under the microscope
24 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
18 Feb 99 | Food under the microscope
25 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
01 Apr 99 | Food under the microscope
24 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
12 Aug 99 | Americas
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sheffield 99 stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sheffield 99 stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
UK Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes