In The Field

‘Can scientists and politicians be partners?’

Given that he has been a health minister in the UK, is still in politics and was addressing a science conference you might think that Norman Warner would obviously think scientists and politicians can be partners.

Addressing this question in his keynote speech though, it’s clear that it is not all plain sailing.

“Governments tend to have a slightly bi-polar approach to science. On the one hand they are excited by the possibilities of harnessing science to economic growth, prosperity and life-saving interventions,” he says. “On the other, they would prefer not to have to deal with some of the ethical dilemmas and controversy that often accompany advances in knowledge.”

Scientists, says Warner, have to realise that science is part of our social and political systems. How scientific advances are handled has to be negotiated, and “scientists are often unaware or reluctant to acknowledge that a negotiation is going to have to take place before there is public understanding and acceptance of particular advances”.

Warner’s conclusion is that scientists and politicians can and need to be partners. But from some of the other things in his speech it sounds not so much like the two groups can be partners but that they already are, and need to get better at talking to each other.

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