Minister slates 'bad' science

March 19, 1999

Science by press release is not just bad science, it is irresponsible science, Lord Sainsbury told a Royal Society meeting this week.

Speaking on science, technology and social responsibility, he said science had one of the oldest systems of self-regulation with peer review and requirements for reproducibility.

"Scientific regulation can work extremely well, but it relies on people following rules. I appreciate that economic and academic pressures mean that individuals or research groups are often striving to be first. But there is a greater overarching responsibility to science itself," he said during SET99 science week.

He said scientific advances must be considered within an effective, transparent and independent regulatory framework. "That is what I believe is the socially responsible use of science," he said.

Pointing to past examples where scientists have failed to spot future uses of basic research, he said: "We should never make the mistake of thinking that we can, at the beginning of any period of scientific discovery, estimate what the benefits and disadvantages are. That is not to say that we should never ban a particular use of a new technology.

"But we should think long and hard before ever stopping the development of a new science."

Sir David Weatherall of Oxford University warned that the push for academia to work with industry raised problems. He called for a "very clear relationship between investigators and industry" so that the former could fulfil a social responsibility to publish regardless of the popularity of results. "You might say it can never happen in your university. But it can and it will," he warned.

University College London biology professor Lewis Wolpert said science may seem "detached and value free" but its applications and implications in the real world were not. Steven Rose, of the Open University, said: "The drivers for the direction of science come from funders, government and industry. To pretend science is going on in some abstract space is to misunderstand the process."

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