Monday, 6 December 2010

What does BHA Distinguished Supporter Colin Blakemore think about the Public Understanding of Science?

I'm interested to I find out what British Humanist Association (BHA) Distinguished Supporters think about:-
  • The Public Understanding of Science. 
  • Why they support the BHA
  • Inter-relationships between Humanism and Science
  • How should Humanists convey the importance of Science to other Humanists and wider society
The method I've used here is a brief online literature research. I've added links (all except those in red) and my emphasis is in bold.

Later I hope to make podcasts of interviews of Distinguished Supporters, possibly in association with The Pod Delusion.

Blakemore at the Oxford University
Scientific Society social event in 2009
Professor Colin Blakemore is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association:-

'Colin Blakemore was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in June 1944. After winning a place at the King Henry VIII grammar school in Coventry, he went on to win a scholarship to study natural science at Cambridge and then completed a PhD at the University of California in Berkeley. After 11 years in the Department of Physiology at Cambridge University, he became Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford University in 1979. From 1996–2003 he was Director of the Medical Research Council Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford, and was Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC) from 2003-2010.

Professor Blakemore was President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the British Science Association) in 1997-1998 and its Chairman in 2001-2004. He has been described by the Royal Society as “one of Britain 's most influential communicators of science”, and he has been awarded many prizes from medical and scientific academies and societies. He is committed to promoting dialogue between scientists and the public, and to defending medical research using animals despite regularly receiving threats of violence from animal rights extremists. Over the years he has been a frequent contributor to radio and television programmes, including the BBC Reith Lecture in 1976 ('Mechanics of the Mind') and the 13-part BBC2 series The Mind Machine. His books for the general public include Mechanics of the Mind (for which he won the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science), Images and Understanding , Mindwaves, The Mind Machine (see 'Look Inside' page 86), Gender and Society and The Oxford Companion to the Body.

In July 2001 he was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools, and he was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who signed and sent a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, concerning the teaching of Creationism in schools in March 2002.  He was also one of the signatories to a letter supporting a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday, published in The Times on February 12, 2003, and sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.

Colin Blakemore is also an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Association.

More about Colin Blakemore at Wikipedia (which I've updated today).

In 2004 Colin Blakemore as the new Head of the Medical Research Council, was interviewed and asked in the last question 'Do you feel there is sufficient public understanding in science? How would you encourage more?' Colin Blakemore said:-
  • It all depends on what one means by “understanding”. There is, contrary to received wisdom, remarkably strong enthusiasm for science amongst the general public, and considerable confidence in scientists. 
    • In opinion polls, 
      • three-quarters of the population said they were “amazed” by the achievements of science. 
      • Another poll found that people admired Einstein more than David Beckham! 
      • an annual Mori poll shows an unchanging two thirds of the public who say that they trust scientists to tell the truth. 
    • On the other hand, the near-hysteria about such topics as 
      • GM foods 
      • MMR vaccination and autism reveals that the public are not well informed about the processes of science. 
    • Understanding of risk and how to assess it is poor. 
      • The public expect infallible pronouncements from scientists and are confused when they hear researchers expressing differences of opinion in areas of genuine uncertainty. 
    • In my opinion, we, the researchers who benefit from public funds, have a responsibility to keep the people informed about how we spend their money. 
    • Even more important, we must trust the public to guide us in areas of ethical concern. 
    • But if we are to have confidence in the public’s rightful role in determining how far science can go, they must understand how science and scientists work. 
      • Of course, busy researchers will ask why they should bother to give their precious time to public communication, when there is no professional recognition for that effort. 
      • I think that the universities, the research councils and other funders... should acknowledge that public communication is a legitimate professional activity. 
Watch (9minutes) Colin Blakemore at the 'Science is Vital' rally in London on 9th October 2010 talking about Science Funding in the UK (he is introduced by BHA Vice President Evan Harris):-

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