Lose sense of science

May 14, 2004

One grows weary of reading that Baroness Greenfield's failure to be shortlisted for Royal Society fellowship represents prejudice, or "club culture", as Geoffrey Alderman alleges, (Soapbox, May 7).

Not long ago you published a letter by me (December ) pointing out that Baroness Greenfield, by her own admission, is undecided whether human consciousness can or cannot be explained in purely material terms. She wants to find a material basis, but has to admit that there is "something else".

I wrote: "If consciousness is a higher form of reality than the experience feeding it, the process cannot be logically described as a mechanism."

Baroness Greenfield did not (apparently) respond to my criticism. But when her science is as indeterminate as this, it isn't surprising that a body devoted to the pursuit of science does not invite her to become a member.

Alderman confuses the issue: on the one hand he disclaims the scientific knowledge qualifying him to pass judgement on this case; on the other he "knows" that she is a worthy scientist - or at least a brilliant scientific communicator. But good communication is simply the sine qua non of the adequate academic - it is not an entitlement to special honour and recognition.

The fuss made over this non-issue shows how right Peter Abbs (Soapbox, May 7) is to speak of educational exhaustion: we are losing all sense of what science or learning mean - even of how to conduct a rational debate.

Nigel Probert

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