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Public understanding of science

BBC Radio 4’s Day of the Scientist (12 Oct.) was timely in a world where science is serving us so well. Sir Patrick Vallance called for science to be as highly regarded as economics by politicians. To that I would add the need for interdisciplinarity. Science and society belong together.

Scotland, to its great discredit, was without a Chief Scientific Adviser for a lengthy period around 2016. Cynics might even have suspected the SNP preferred not to have scientific advice.

During 13 years as an Edinburgh city councillor there seemed little understanding of Science among the majority of councillors and council staff. It would have been comforting to read accurate accounts of properties of materials, to challenge the extremes of populism over e.g. genetic modification, to have been sure that sustainability was more than a buzzword. Happily Liberal Democrats had scientist councillors Sue Tritton and Jim Lowrie in our ranks. And the current group has councillor Kevin Lang.

Public understanding of science is vital, and it is encouraging that many excellent communicators have been given air time during the pandemic. Edinburgh has an annual Science Festival, where people can learn in a fun way – from making lie detectors (very useful for a politician’s bag of tricks) to tasting different chocolates – as well as hearing stimulating talks aimed at a general audience. Chaos theory remains one of my favourites; perhaps helpful in assessing the current crop of ruling politicians.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 12 Comments
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