“The New Enlightenment” saw leading geneticist and Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse cover food security, climate change, global health and creating a sustainable economy.
The 2012 Richard Dimbleby Lecture last night began timidly enough, but Sir Paul Nurse quickly entered into a crescendo that covered much ground in current scientific thinking and the big global problems facing us today, all the while encouraging us to engage with and embrace science as the solution it has the potential to be. If you missed it (and you probably did, given its eccentric timeslot), we urge you to catch up on BBC’s iPlayer.
Sir Paul’s passion for science extends beyond his own field and into its ability to generate reliable knowledge about the natural world. Scientists are able to do this, says Sir Paul, because they exhibit “the historian’s eye for detail, the mathematician’s feel for logic, the philosopher’s desire to keep asking questions and, some would say, the patience of a saint”.
Sir Paul said that “data trumps all – even the most beautiful idea”, but was quick to warn that science is not about cherry picking data that only support your own ideas or theories – a common enough practice in climate change debate. “Scientific issues are settled by the overall strength of evidence”.
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However, Sir Paul said, “It’s impossible to achieve complete certainty on many complex scientific problems, yet sometimes we still need to take action”.
Indeed, it was Sir Paul’s views on global issues that were most interesting for us here at Blue & Green Tomorrow.
“Look at the debate about climate change. The majority of expert climate scientists have reached the consensus view that human activity has resulted in global warming. Although there is debate about how much the temperature will rise in the future”. Consensus opinion, Sir Paul said, was “how science works”.
Sir Paul was honest in his own personal concerns: “Today, the world faces major problems, some uppermost in mind, are food security, climate change, global health and making economies sustainable, all of which need science”.
“It is critical for our democracy to have mature discussions about these issues. But these debates are sometimes threatened by a misinformed sense of balance and inappropriate headlines in the media, which give credence to views not supported by the science”.
It was an excellent lecture given by a man who insisted that the UK government must invest more than 1.8% of GDP on research and development to aspire to its goal of “harnessing science and engineering to rebalance the economy towards innovation-based sustainable growth”.
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