Scientific research is aimed at generating knowledge of the natural world and of ourselves, and also at developing that knowledge into useful applications, including driving innovation for sustainable productive economic growth, for better public services, health, prosperity and quality of life, and for protecting the environment. Therefore, scientific research is very useful, but it is not solely utilitarian because it generates knowledge that more generally enhances humanity through culture and civilisation. In all these senses research is a public good.
Today the world faces major problems: food security, climate change, global health challenges and making economies sustainable, all of which can benefit from scientific research. It is critical for our society to have mature discussions about these issues. Threats to this come from those who distort science because they are driven by their ideology, politics, or religion, as well as from lobbyists, all driving their particular agendas.
The lecture by Nobel Laureate Paul Nurse will explore these topics and will also consider the characteristics of research systems that need to be adopted if science is to be effective at producing reliable knowledge.
For example, what values and practices are required for high-quality science? How do these differ across and between discovery science, the translation of findings into practice or policy, and their real-world application? What mechanisms should be in place to decide which research programmes to pursue, which researchers should be supported, and where the research should be done? How can priorities be set? And how can needs be determined and conflicts of opinion resolved concerning societal issues such as climate change, feeding the world, and ensuring a sustainable economy? What are the ethical concerns for research in areas such as healthcare delivery and military activities?
Paul cautions that he will not be able to provide answers to all these questions in this lecture but hopes to identify the relevant issues and provoke useful debate.
Sir Paul Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist and is currently Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London. He has served as President of the Royal Society, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and President of Rockefeller University. He shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and has also received the Albert Lasker Award and the Royal Society’s Royal and Copley Medals.
He was knighted in 1999, received the Legion d’honneur in 2003, and for 15 years was a member of the Council for Science and Technology advising the UK Prime Minister and Cabinet concerning science and innovation issues. He is now one of the seven Chief Scientific Advisors of the European Commission.
His scientific focus has been the life cycle of eukaryotes — the more complex (nucleus containing) type of cells. His major contribution was to discover how certain enzymes, called cyclin-dependent protein kinases, regulate cell reproduction.
Doors open at 7.00pm. The talk is expected to last less than 50 minutes and will be followed by a break for drinks and a Q&A session with the audience.
Photo credit: Fiona Hanson/AP Images