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Family and politics


Climate change and the role of scientists in educating the public
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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I think the big challenge is climate and climate change, and it's a challenge so enormous that I get really pissed off with- when the public thinks that it's a problem with the same dimensions as GM food, for example. I happen to bump into Michael Meacher every now and then, who used to be the great environmentalist minister, because his lovely daughter is married to a nephew of mine. I sometimes see him and we have a word about it. And I used to think what is Michael- what are you doing going on about GM food, so it is with great relief that I see he is now writing in The Guardian about climate change. That's a real problem which GM food absolutely isn't.
So what's going to solve this problem?
Climate change?
I am no expert on the subject. I suppose that the changes that are being contemplated are in the right direction. I think it's enormously difficult- I am sympathetic with the current American government to the extent of believing that counter measures of energy conservation and reducing CO2 emissions, are themselves a threat in the short term demands. There maybe a threat to long term progress in those areas because CO2 emissions and such problems, the control waste disposal, are matters where- which can be very, very expensive and the expense may be holding up the development of the world economy to a level where it can cope with- equably over the whole globe, with climate change. So I think there is an economic balance to be struck there between expensive measures which may be highly detrimental to a developed economy, and things which are affordable within the scope of- I am not saying anything which hasn't been said in newspapers a hundred times and with greater authority than I can offer.
But you are not optimistic that this can all be done in time to avoid catastrophe?
Well, I don't see any alternative to trying to strike- strike the right balance. Is there an alternative?
It says that if you have the majority of the people on the planet uninformed and uneducated you are going to be asking a lot of them.
And I think good science has a role to play in that. It's not the- I don't believe that science has as much to offer- for example, in Indian education, some Indians think- I've heard Professor Bhargava arguing that the most important thing for science, for India, is an understanding of science and I've heard the leading UNDP economist for the Middle East saying that what the Arab States need above all is research and development. And I can go along with that, I think that's a little bit different from- I think you can put too much value on the need for summer schools which will teach everybody else immunology. I think- I think- I think I don't say that they're a bad idea, I've participated in them, in many of them myself, but I do think that the education of the world is the big problem, actually probably a lot bigger than climate change anyway, but so closely linked to it that it's- it's the same thing.
And the role of the scientists in educating the public, do you think we should all be more aggressive in trying to get our message to the public or should there be intermediates?
I don't think that's a pressing problem, I mean, I think it's to some extent a problem that's better dealt with by the expositors of science than by the practitioners of science. I think Richard Dawkins or the other popularisers of Darwinian scientists do a very important job and I think they probably do it better than the like of- I'll do my bit and I will do so, I mean you know in the course of next year I have definite plans to get at science teaching, for example, through the new Darwinism Centre at Down House, that I'll- I'll do my bit, that's all I can offer.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 5 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010