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Newcastle Science Festival 2003

Caspar Hewett looks back on the events of the last two weeks.

This year we have been privileged to see the first Newcastle Science Festival, running from 12-26 April, which has included an exciting variety of events, ranging from lectures, through dramatic debates to inventive exhibitions.

On 14 April Matt Ridley, acclaimed science writer, Chairman of International Centre for Life and author of Nature Via Nurture, gave a lecture entitled Genes, Experience and What Makes Us Human outlining the hundred years' war between the partisans of nature and nurture and explained how a new understanding of genes reveals how we as human beings can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. Click Here for review by Gill Norman.

On 15 April Kandu Arts for sustainable development presented Future Foods, a dramatic debate looking at the issues surrounding genetically modified (GM) food. Using actors and simple scenarios from everyday life, Kandu Arts generate debate through the use of theatrical performance and audience participation. What makes the scenarios interesting is that the audience are encouraged to stop the action at any point and ask questions, make points and even rewrite scenes - changing the dialogue or action as they please. Members of the audience can also enter the action as themselves or characters and thus use drama to explore the subject matter. Kandu Arts' novel approach to facilitating discussion is unthreatening and fun and definitely worth a view and I would have liked to have seen such an entertaining event better attended - maybe next year!

The Big Biotech Debate took place on Wednesday 16 April at the International Centre for Life and saw Francis Fukuyama and Gregory Stock engaged in a debate on the ethics of stem cell research, human cloning, gene therapy and other medical procedures made possible by the biotechnology revolution. Gregory Stock, author of Redesigning Humans and Director of Medicine, Technology and Society at UCLA was an adviser to Bill Clinton during his time at the White House. Stock is very upbeat about the new technologies and thinks humanity can be trusted to make the right decisions about screening, selecting and even altering their genes or those of their children. Francis Fukuyama, author of Our Posthuman Future and the international bestseller The End of History and the Last Man is Bernard Swartz Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. In stark contrast to Stock, Fukuyama is pessimistic about the future. He thinks people need to be prevented from abusing the options opened up by biotechnology and argues for the introduction of increased regulation. The event proved to be an interesting and thought-provoking head to head debate on genetics and the future. Click Here for report by Bryan Vernon.

On Thursday 17 April three biographers discussed the human side of being a scientist in The Life of Science and the Science of Life. Award-winning biographer Brenda Maddox, author of Rosalind Franklin - the dark lady of DNA, charted the life of the woman who almost discovered the double helix, Rosalind Franklin. Samantha Weinberg, author of Pointing from the Grave: A True Story of Murder and DNA, told the extraordinary story of Helena Greenwood, whose science eventually solved the mystery of her own murder, and Victor McElheny, author of Watson and DNA - Making a Scientific Revolution, analysed the controversial reputation of the man who both found the double helix and led the Human Genome Project, James Watson. Click Here for review by Caspar Hewett.

and finally . . . on Saturday 26 April, fifty years and one day after the publication of the famous paper by James Watson and Francis Crick which described the double helix of DNA, there was the special event; James Watson in Conversation with Nick Ross. Here we were privileged to hear probably the most important scientist alive today talk about his life and work, along with a specially-recorded message from Francis Crick. Click Here for review by David Large.

Overall it has been excellent to see a set of such high quality events in Newcastle, and I hope that this will be the first of many such festivals. My compliments to the organisers. More, please!

Buy these books from Amazon
Nature Via Nurture Redesigning Humans Our Posthuman Future The End of History

Buy these books from Amazon
Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (Hardback) Pointing from the Grave Watson and DNA

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© C J M Hewett, 2003