Suddenly science is sexy      


February 20th, 2015

I went to see a new play last week about the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who led the Manhattan project which produced the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War.

Robert Oppenheimer with Albert Einstein in 1947 by James Vaughan

Robert Oppenheimer with Albert Einstein in 1947 by James Vaughan

Over the last few months, I have also seen films about two other famous scientists, Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking, both of which have received Oscar nominations.  I can’t remember when interest in science fact (as opposed to science fiction) has been so strong among film makers and the film going public.

The play – Oppenheimer by Tim Morton Smith – was both absorbing and chilling.  It also provided an excellent, simplified explanation of the science as well as exploring the moral issues involved in the development of this destructive technology.   The project cost more than $2 billion and involved over 100,000 personnel – with the justification that it would shorten the war (which it did) and save lives. It seems that money can always be found for destructive technologies such as these, even when budget are squeezed elsewhere.

What is encouraging is to see more effort being made to make science and technology more accessible and comprehensible to lay people.  Also the ethical aspects of scientific and technological research and development are being widely explored.

Priorities for research spending

In this context, Practical Action is developing the concept of Technology Justice.  We want research and innovation efforts and money to focus on meeting people’s basic needs and increasing wellbeing and environment sustainability and are engaging with development organisations and scientific institutions to encourage debate on this issue.  So raising the profile of science in the arts comes at the perfect time.

17533In a speech in 2013, Bill Gates pointed out that funding for research on baldness outstripped that for malaria.  I have no doubt that $10 billion spent on the Large Hadron Collider is great for science, but when 1.3 billion people in the world still lack access to safe water we have to wonder about our priorities.  Please let me know if you have other examples to illustrate this.

If we are ever to eradicate extreme poverty, deal with climate change and live in a more equitable world, there has to be change. And science and technology will play a leading role in making this change happen.   Getting more about science on the stage and on the screen should increase knowledge and interest as well as provoking debate, which can only be a good thing.

One response to “Suddenly science is sexy      ”

  1. Md. A. Halim Miah Says:

    Nice initiative to raise discourse before finalizing the Sustainable Development Goals and arguing for prioritizing issues of investing in development areas. I think we should identify some issues considering the long term benefit like- compulsory primary education for all children , no children or household without roof or shed and light ( ensure minimum per capita energy) , safe drinking water and sanitation and minimum 2200 Kilo Cal intake for every people with access to essential vaccine and medication for every child in the world must be considered as minimum standard

Leave a reply