|You are in: Talking Point: South Asian Debates|
Saturday, 9 March, 2002, 13:46 GMT
Do we trust today's scientists?
Britain's Royal Society holds the UK's first National Forum for Science this week and top of the agenda is the question of public faith in scientists.
Scientific research has been indispensable to man's progress. Without the work of scientists we would not have enjoyed the benefits of medical advances like antibiotics or heart transplants, international communications - and we might even think that the Earth is still flat!
But a series of scandals, from DDT and Thalidomide to BSE, over recent years has dented public confidence. And with cloning and genetic modification increasingly making the news, the role of the scientist in shaping society is becoming ever more controversial.
Should people be more aware of what some scientists are presently doing? Is scientific research dominated by corporate interest rather than driven by the thirst for knowledge and progress? And with scientific issues becoming increasingly complex, how do scientists engage public interest in their work?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Gone are the days when scientists had time on their side to explore. They were taken from pain-staking and time-consuming research and put in a 100-meter dash with other scientists. Find something, attract funding or find yourself out of the door. Along with corporations institutions have become increasingly greedy. But good science is not dead. Instead of churning milk, we are whipping it as hard as we can. It still produces some butter. As Reagan once said about the Russians "trust but verify". Science is self-correcting. Give it some time, truth will come out.
Not all the public are so ignorant as to not understand issues such as GM & cloning. I believe the public have the right to determine whether GM crops are used or whether we clone humans. These are ethical issues that effect all of us.
David Barber, UK
Scientists are human beings just like everyone else. Most have acceptable ethics, some do not. The real question for the general public is "Do you trust the scientific method." Personally I do. Peer review and debate among those in the field are the best defence against those with slippery ethics, not a government regulation written by those who know nothing but politics.
The whole point about scientific method is that you SHOULDN'T blindly trust scientists and their statements as if these were facts: you should retain scepticism about every bit of science, and remember that whatever scientist say is just their latest and best theory - in proper science there are only "better" theories, never absolute truths.
Check the time on your digital watch. Cook food in a microwave range. Send and receive email, consume new drugs to cure old sickness and tell me that science is untrustworthy. I wonder that there is any debate on this subject.
By trusting scientists, you throw away your rights to analyze and question their results. There are scientific results with undesirable factors played down or intentionally omitted for reasons of publication or funding. If you trust them, you are misinformed.
One should always view scientific results with an objective mind, and look at how the supporting evidence is gathered, and whether the evidence are representative enough to support the arguments, before deciding the results is acceptable or not.
Such boring routine is a way of life in the scientific community.
But it is not the atitude chosen by the general public in Britain. Here, people are not taught to make their own decision based on given facts, but to based on "expert" opinions, often biased.
After the failure of many expert opinions, the British public now
tends to place their safest bet on believing the worst case scenario.
Look at BSE, CJD, MMR, ... etc. Sigh!
Dr Sharad Kumar, Birmingham, UK
What choice do we have? If you don't trust scientists and science, who will you trust? Clergy? Politicians? If there's one thing that has made life better these past few centuries, it's been science and its progress. How science or scientific facts are applied is where we've had problems. Who decided to build and use nuclear weapons? Not Neils Bohr or Einstein.
I do research at a
university and part of the job is to critically
assess the work of others. Some science is done
well and some is terrible. The public should
take its responsibility for scientific research that is
done. Mostly the public want cheap food, a cure for
cancer, eternal life etc. Scientists want funding. The
public controls the market and the make up of their
government and these in turn control funding. But the
innocent public should not capitulate their responsibility
to accept the consequence of their own desires.
We can trust them to be the products of rigorous training, and to be used to having their every statement and conclusion checked over by eager eyes. Unfortunately we can also trust them to be as human and fallible as the rest of us, and as prone to wishful thinking. On balance, we can probably rely on them more than on non-scientists provided we check out the spectrum of scientific opinion. We must also remember that their funding has to come from somewhere, and there is pressure on them sometimes to get the "right" results and do the "right" research.
Scientists I trust; it is businessmen I am wary of. It is not research, but the ends to which the research is put that poses a threat. Increasingly, it seems, profit comes before safety and ethics. Regulate big business; let science do its work.
Ajit Balakrishnan, Canada
We live in a mainly capitalist world. Scientists, therefore, are like everyone else, they have to make a profit. If people want scientific innovations someone, somewhere, has to pay for it. Corporations pay a lot of money towards researching things that could be financially profitable, but governments also support scientific research. This kind of research is paid for by the tax-payer and the public should be given more information about where their money is being spent.
There have been accidents with nuclear reactors in the past, military and political disasters. Would the general public be allowed access to classified military information? The bulk of people I've met who think GM foods are a bad thing, don't really know what GM foods are. It's easy to say "educate the public" but short of sending them to graduate school, I don't see how people can be made to fully understand the work that scientists do.
Corporate sponsorship is not the only means of obtaining biased
science - governments also achieve this via their funding criteria. "True" scientists, as opposed to "PR scientists" DO try to pass on understanding of the science and issue involved but unless they are communicating with people who have at least a rudimentary understanding of scientific principals, it is a losing endeavour.
Today the number of people choosing scientific research as their career has come down thanks to the horrendous materialization. I would say even those who enter research careers are not totally unaffected by this endless race. They too constantly look for commercial benefits to assert themselves.
This view of common man to research is further strengthened by the scams and controversial research areas we hear about. And the fact that politics plays an important role even in the research community makes things even worse. There is an urgent need to rid this field of politics and similar such negative affects so as to restore confidence in us.
26 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
10 Jul 00 | Africa
08 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
04 Sep 01 | Health
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Top South Asian Debates stories now:
Links to more South Asian Debates stories are at the foot of the page.
|E-mail this story to a friend|
Links to more South Asian Debates stories
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>> | To BBC World Service>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy