Previous Fora / 2003
News & Views
I believe that I can contribute to the conference in Budapest in one way. Science has a great ethical responsibility: to provide knowledge. Ethics without knowledge is as effective as a geographical exploration without a compass. In simplest terms: no knowledge means confusion. Today, these are not only empty words. The most powerful Green Movement pretends that science and industrial progress are responsible for contamination. This attitude has become widespread because of newspaper accounts according to which science is difficult and dangerous. While reporting on disasters is interesting and important, one very simple way to contradict the Greens is to point out that they should consider the improvement in quality and span of life due to modern science and industry.
I should highly welcome an advocacy of a point of view: Knowledge is good; indeed, it constitutes the main difference between human and animal life.
The emphasis on ethics must be considered as an independent activity which advocates that the results of science be put to good use. Knowledge and ethics are basically independent but their joint application makes each of them important. In simple words, the role of ethics begins where science and technolog have opened possibilities. I believe that the above text addresses the question whether or not the public interest supports knowledge. That the Green Movement received many votes in the German elections and that in America the press supports the Greens make it clear that this scientific conference must support this simple axiom: knowledge is necessary for us to apply ethical principles appropriately.
Dr. Edward Teller
Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Congratulations on the
initiation of a very relevant discussion! I have a comment on your six questions and your
"question of questions".
I believe you have omitted a crucial issue in your exemplary plan to " ... match the major producers of new knowledge - with consumers - (and) to discuss the optimal means of utilizing knowledge in the everyday life of humankind."
Very probably you have implicitly considered the public grasp of scientific issues as an essential element in carrying out your objectives.
The 21st century will surely record a pace of change in human behavior and in human capabilities and potentialities which will make each decade the equivalent of three to five decades of the 20th century. Beginning high school students today do not know of the ancient world of pre-Internet, pre-cell phone, and pre-genetic engineering. I feel it is essential to develop a popular consensus that is required to accommodate the explosive increase in knowledge to society in a way that does not alienate or further discomfort populations. Today, these populations are ignorant of how knowledge is acquired, how it is used, and the decisions that must be made to devote the benefits to the advancement of democratic societies to a much higher level of science literacy. That this also applies even more forcibly to residents of developing nations has long been understood by scientists and leaders of the industrial nations. Never before has there been so urgent a need for all populations to grasp the power and the methods of knowledge acquisition and application.
So my suggestion is that you add a seventh theme: Knowledge and Popular Education.
Leon M. Lederman
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Batavia, IL, USA
Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1988