I organise educational programmes for senior Chinese policymakers. I am sometimes at a loss as to why they come to the UK. However, at one level the answer is simple. For all their technical know-how and ambitious drive they share the same managerial framework as their post-ideological counterparts in the West. The 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010) owes much more to one set of western ideas, sustainable development, than it does to another set which were the rallying cries of an earlier generation of Chinese modernisers - science and democracy.
I’d like science and democracy to be a key part of a human project for the first quarter of this century. I am not saying that science is democratic. It’s not. But it is not a democratic critique to say that science is elitist. It is a populist and philistine one. I would argue that the advance of science can only be defended and encouraged in a society which is self-confident and democratic. The common element of science and democracy is that both presume, and relish, the fact that it is conflict and clarification not consensus and obfuscation that produce the best results.
A small example of what I mean is the debate around the proposed Oxford University research facility which will use experiments on animals in order to save more human lives. The university administration injunction against the anti-human protestors is a disservice to both the intellectual tradition of the university and to democratic rights of all those involved both for and against the research facility. Not every scientist has to be a democrat, but every democrat has to support the freedom of scientific enquiry. They also have to refuse short-term bureaucratic expediency and dare to know.
Alan Hudson is coauthor of Teaching and Training in Post-Compulsory Education (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and Basildon: The Mood of the Nation (download this book (.pdf 357 KB))