Trust in science

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Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Paul Nurse spoke at the University of Bedfordshire

about the importance of building trust in science and the benefits that science has brought to humankind as part of the University’s 'Science & Society' lecture series (Monday 16 May).

Sir Paul, a geneticist and cell biologist whose discoveries in cell cycle processes have profound importance as errors in cell division and growth may lead to serious diseases such as cancer, said:  “In my view science is the most revolutionary activity known to humankind, more lasting than revolutions brought about by politics or economics.”

He explained how trust in science had led to many benefits for humankind and gave the example of life expectancy.  “Only one hundred years ago, even in developed countries, life expectancy was around 50 years.”

However he stated: “In the last 100 years, life expectancy has increased to around 80 years.  This change has its basis in science and is truly revolutionary.”

Sir Paul Nurse audience

Sir Paul contributions to cell biology and cancer research were recognised with a knighthood in 1999 and his work relating to the discovery of cell cycle regulatory molecules saw him jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001

He is currently the Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London and leads their research to understand why disease develops and to find new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent illnesses in people.

In his lecture Sir Paul examined how trust in science can be built so that science can flourish and bring about benefits for humankind.

He said: “For science to prosper requires great science to be done, and that is driven by great scientists. 

“We need to provide a scientific education and training that allows such scientists to develop, then we need to identify and support them with an environment and adequate resources so that they prosper.”

Importantly he explained: “They need to be given the freedom to pursue what they judge to be interesting and they should be protected from counter-productive interference from often well-meaning but sometimes misguided scientific managers and leaders.”

However scientists also need to play their part in building public trust in science. “Scientists need to be open and transparent in their dealings both with each other and with the public.”

He also explained how scientists work should be open to everyone.

Sir Paul gave the example of genome sequences and the positive effects on the molecular understanding of biomedicine. “Had this data been locked away for private profit, as some had wished to do, progress for human benefit would have been slower.”

He acknowledged commercial interested should be protected but argued that the data should be available so doctors and healthcare providers could accurately evaluate the treatment of diseases.

The Nobel Laureate concluded with the thought: “For science to reach its full potential in bringing benefit to humankind, we must build trust in science and educate our citizens to be at ease with science, and properly train our scientists and encourage them to fully engage with the public.”

View photos from the event here


Notes for editors

As well being jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001, Sir Paul was the President of the Royal Society from 2010-2015. He has received many distinguished awards including the Albert Lasker Award and the Royal Medal for his contributions to cell biology and cancer research. Sir Paul recently led a review of UK research councils with the aim to ensure that UK continues to support world-leading science, and invests public money in the best possible way.


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