One of our greatest scientific minds reflects on the role of science in the twenty-first century.
In this riveting, eye-opening new book, preeminent astrophysicist Martin Rees charts out the future of science, offering a compelling vision of how scientists and laypeople can work together to address the most urgent issues of our era—including climate change and energy concerns, population growth, and epidemiological threats.
Scientific research is crucial to a growing number of policy decisions, but in our public discussions, ideology and indignation all too often threaten to drown out research and evidence. To shape debates over health care, energy policy, space travel, and other vital issues, ordinary citizens must engage directly with research rather than relying on pundits’ and politicians’ interpretations. Otherwise, fringe opinions that have been discredited in the scientific community can take hold in the public imagination. At the same time, scientists must understand their roles as communicators and ambassadors as well as researchers.
Rees not only diagnoses this central problem but also explains how scientists and the general public can deploy a global, long-term perspective to address the new challenges we face. In the process, he reveals critical shortcomings in our current system—for example, the tendency to be overly anxious about minor hazards while underrating the risk of potential catastrophes. Offering a strikingly clear portrait of the future of science, Rees tackles such diverse topics as the human brain, the possibility that humans will colonize other planets, and the existence of extraterrestrial life in order to distinguish between what scientists can hope to discover and what will always lie beyond our grasp.
A fresh perspective on science’s significance and potential, From Here to Infinity will inspire and enlighten.
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.