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Is science dangerous?

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'Reading rots the mind'
Lewis Wolpert Scientist
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Francis was... Francis Crick, of course, shared an office with Sydney Brenner, and I remember going to visit them, and on the wall of the office was a big notice: 'Reading Rots the Mind'. And he and Sydney had a special arrangement, and that was, if any or either of them had an idea, no matter how silly it was, they would agree to discuss it in detail, to make sure that there wasn’t something in it. And Sydney pointed out that in order to make progress in a particular area, you must not know too much about the subject, because that closes your mind; you want to come to a subject where you don’t know very much and you want to bring new ideas into it. And that’s exactly what he did by bringing in the nematode worm as a model for developmental biology. So he felt... he felt very strongly that knowing too much about a subject you wouldn’t make real progress there, because you’d be trapped by the current ideas.

Born in South Africa on October 19 1929, Lewis Wolpert CBE FRS FRSL is a developmental biologist, author, and broadcaster. He was educated at the University of Witwatersrand (BSc), Imperial College London, and at King's College London (PhD). He is currently Emeritus Professor of Biology as applied to medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology at University College London. In addition to his scientific and research publications, he has written about his own experience of clinical depression in Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression (1999).

Listeners: Eleanor Lawrence

Eleanor Lawrence is a freelance science writer and editor, and co-author of Longman Dictionary of Environmental Science.

Tags: Francis Crick, Sydney Brenner

Duration: 1 minute, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2010

Date story went live: 14 June 2010