Science vs Superstition: The Case for a New Scientific Enlightenment, edited by Jim Panton and Oliver Marc Hartwich, Policy Exchange, 2006.
This collection of essays from the British think tank Policy Exchange is an excellent defence of scientific inquiry in all of the major policy debates, and it should be on every A-level student’s reading list.
Pain specialist Stuart Derbyshire takes time out of his research in Birmingham to investigate the history of the new ethics committees that have sprung up to regulate scientific research. It is a valuable detour, showing how a handful of extreme cases were made into an argument for making research decisions on non-scientific grounds.
Similarly, Joe Kaplinsky’s re-capping of the history of nuclear power shows how an unrealistic preoccupation with unconstrained risks has led to daft decisions favouring energy sources that are responsible for many, many more deaths, like coal-mining. Particularly useful is Kaplinsky’s explanation of how Greenpeace managed to massage the statistics to discover 200,000 deaths due to the explosion at the Chernobyl reactor, when in truth there were 50.
German ecological writers Dirk Maxeiner and Michael Miersch put the questioning of scientific inquiry in the context of a romantic protest against development. At a time when the liberal press only seems interested in the American conservative reaction against stem-cell research, it is interesting to note that in Germany – as Thilo Spahl and Thomas Deichmann explain – the case against stem-cell research is not premised on God’s plan but on fears of a new eugenics. They criticise the new fashion for talking of ‘embryonic persons’, instead of fetuses, as a demotion of women’s rights.