What are the barriers to science in the 21st century?
Sunday 28 October, 4.00pm until 5.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1 Battle for Science

In recent years, the UK government has trumpeted the importance of science. Tony Blair described himself as ‘born-again’ on the subject and Gordon Brown, while still Chancellor, opened up the coffers. But the money available to scientific research seems to come at a price. Scientists are increasingly expected to fulfil demands that are less about the pursuit of knowledge than the instrumental benefits – and potential ethical perils – of their research. Today’s scientists are expected to keep one eye on the ‘knowledge transfer’ potential of their work and another on possible risks. Questions about the likely benefits for the economy, healthcare or the environment are high on funding bodies’ minds, as are questions about the likelihood of ‘success’.

Are these reasonable demands to make of scientists? Should the public funding of basic science be tied to potential beneficial outcomes for society, or are we closing down possibilities by asking science to deliver prematurely? What barriers does science face in the 21st century and what can we do to challenge them? Is a more open ended approach to the pursuit of knowledge possible, and if so is it desirable?


Dr Ruth McKernan
vice president, external research - Europe, Pfizer Global R&D
Professor Bill Durodié
head of department and chair of international relations, University of Bath
Dr Evan Harris
campaigner for secularism in the public sphere; former science spokesman, Liberal Democrats; writer, Guardian Political Science blog
Professor Monica Grady
professor of planetary and space sciences, Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, Open University
Tony Gilland
associate fellow, Institute of Ideas

 Produced by

Tony Gilland associate fellow, Institute of Ideas

Longer, healthier, happier? Human needs, human values and science, Raymond Tallis

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