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
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
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;
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!