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HA | Unit 2. Public Attitudes toward Science by Stephen Hawking

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작성자 EMP Master 작성일18-07-10 12:34 조회2,109회 댓글0건


Unit 2.  Public Attitudes toward Science by Stephen Hawking


Whether we like it or not, the world we live in has changed a great deal in the last hundred years, and it is likely to change even more in the next hundred. Some people would like to stop these changes and go back to what they see as a purer and simpler age. But as history shows, the past was not that wonderful. It was not so bad for a privileged minority, though even they had to do without modern medicine, and childbirth was higly risky for women. But for the vast majority of the population, life was nasty and short.


Anyway, even if one wanted to, one couldn’t put the clock back to an earlier age. Knowledge and techniques can’t just be forgotten. Nor can one prevent further advances in the future. Even if all government money for research were cut off, the force of competition would still bring about advances in technology. Moreover, one cannot stop inquiring minds from thinking about basic science, whether or not they were paid for it.


If we accpet that we cannot prevent science and technology from changing our world, we can at least try to ensure that the changes they make are in the right directions. In a democratic society, this means that the public needs to have a basic understanding of science, so that it can make informed decisions and not leave them in the hands of experts. At the moment, the public has a rather ambivalent attitude toward science. It has come to expect the steady increase in the standard of living that new developments in science and technology have brought to continue, but it also distrusts science beause it doesn’t understand it. This distrust is evident in the cartoon figure of the mad scientist working in his laboratory to produce a Frankenstein. But the public also has a great interest in science, as is shown by the large audiences for science fiction.


The science people learn in school can provide the basic framework. But the rate of scientific progress is now so rapid that there are always new developments that have occurred since one was at school or university. I never learned about molecular biology or transistors at school, but genetic engineering and computers are two of the developments most likely to change the way we live in the futuer. Popular books and magazine articles about science can help to put across new developments, but even the most successful popular book is read by only a small proportion of the population. There are some very good science programs on TV, but others present scientific wonders simply as magic, without explaining them or showing how they fit into the framework of scientific ideas. Producers of television science programs should realize that they have a responsibility to educate the public, not just entertain it.


What are the science-related issues that the public will have to make decisions on in the near future? By far the most urgent is that of nuclear weapons. Other global problems, such as food supply or the green-house effect, are relatively slow-acting, but a nuclear war could mean the end of all human life on earth within days. The relaxation of East-West tensions has meant that the fear of nuclear war has receded from public consciousness. But the danger is still there as long as there are enough weapons to kill the entire population of the world many times over. Nuclear weapons are still poised to strike all the major cities in th Northern Hemisphere. It would only take a computer error to trigger a global war.


If we manage to avoid a nuclear war, there are still other dangers that could destroy us all. There’s a sick joke that the reason we have not been contacted by an alien civilization is that civilizations tend to destroy themselves when they reach our stage. But I have sufficient faith in the good sense of the public to believe that we might prove this wrong.

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