One of our greatest scientific minds reflect on the role of science in the twenty-first century.
Science is often portrayed as an obscure, difficult discipline, governed by elite researchers and inaccessible to the general public. In this riveting, inspiring new book, preeminent astrophysicist Martin Rees overturns this view, urging improved communication between researchers and laypeople. In order to shape debates over healthcare, energy policy,space travel, and other vital issues, ordinary citizens must develop a “feel” for science—the one truly global culture—and engage directly with research rather than relying on pundits’ and politicians’ interpretations. Recognized as an expert on the political and ethical impact of science, Rees demonstrate show we must solve the new challenges we face—from population growth to climate change—by devising strategies with a long-term, global perspective. In the process, he offers insights into the prospects for future discoveries while also explaining science’s intrinsic limits. Just as importantly, Rees reminds us that science should be a source of pleasure and wonder for specialists and nonspecialists alike.
Rees, Britain's former astronomer royal and a scientist's scientist, offers his thoughts on how science should navigate its ongoing interaction with culture, politics, and ethics in the 21st century. Rees's major thesis is that scientists, politicians, and laypeople must engage in meaningful dialogue about how science should be deployed to address the century's looming dangers: "the threats without enemies." This list includes developing reliable energy sources, a burgeoning world population, climate change, diminishing biodiversity, the misuse and unintended consequences of gene manipulation, and the design of drugs that may alter human beings themselves. Rees offers no set-piece solutions, but instead suggests rational and achievable responses some scientific, some sociological that might ameliorate these potential dangers. He champions better funded universities and the idea that science should remain agnostic as to religion; he says that the benefits of globalization must be fairly shared, and, most intriguingly, "There are doors that science could open but which are best left closed." There is enough hard science for this book (based on a series of lectures) to satisfy readers concerned with science's future horizons, as well as a surfeit of wisdom on science and its role in society at large.