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The Big Question: Have We Lost Our Faith In Science?

Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2004

In last week's Big Question, we explored the legacy of the scientists of the Age of Enlightenment; this week we look at the popular perception of science today. Is it a panacea for all our needs or does it create more problems than it solves? Has science enhanced its reputation? Can we actually trust it at all? The Big Question: "Have We Lost Faith In Science?"

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The appliance of science: a mouse Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

Internationally renowned human rights campaigner and activist, Dr Vandana Shiva qualified in quantum physics, but now devotes most of her time to issues surrounding biodiversity. She is deeply sceptical about what lies at the heart of scientific developments, especially when driven by multi-national corporations.

Don Braben is a Visiting Professor in Geology at University College, London. Don has spent many years as an advisor to the British government and is a keen supporter of free-thinking science. He believes that bureaucracy and funding needs are stifling scientific enterprise.

For actor, poet, performer and film-maker, Mat Fraser, science is to blame for creating a generation of people born with shortened limbs. The drug, Thalidomide, was initially launched as a sleeping pill, but was later found to help women suffering from morning sickness. An estimated 8000 people are living with thalidomide disabilities.

Mario Petrucci is a physicist and Poet in Residence for BBC Radio 3. We asked him to write a poem about science:

ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE
(The joule is the formal unit of work or energy)

One hundred thousand trillion joules
to turn an ice cap into mush

One hundred thousand billion joules
to erase a major Eastern city

A hundred thousand million joules
to run a car to death

One hundred million of the same
for Fire Brigades to reach the kitten

Ten million just to keep
December from cold feet

A hundred thousand joules for a mug
of tea

A hundred joules
for a second's worth of War and Peace

Ten to raise a hand - to lift

an average apple to the lips
A single joule to shout the command

Half a joule to pull the trigger
Just one tenth to push the button

Almost zero to have the thought.

You can read more about science and the public trust on the web:
Has the Genetically Modified Food debate harmed the way the public view scientists? Or is the problem that we need to improve Scientists' understanding of the public before we can expect the public to understand scientists?

This edition of The Big Question was first broadcast on 8th May 2004

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