Reflections on the decline of science in England

Science and scientists are generally misunderstood. For example, I came across this complaint by a prominent scientist in a book that I read earlier on this year.

It is in some measure to be attributed to the defects of our system of education, that scientific knowledge scarcely exists amongst the higher classes of society. The discussions in the Houses of Lords or of Commons, which arise on the occurrence of any subjects connected with science, sufficiently prove this fact, which, if I had consulted the extremely limited nature of my personal experience, I should, perhaps, have doubted.

The book wasn’t written by Julian Huppert, the Lib Dem MP for Cambridge – although he made a remarkably similar point in this interview with the Independent in 2010, where “the only scientist in the commons” is reported as saying:

… it was a real concern that the Commons – which is full of career politicians, lawyers and economists – lacked scientific expertise. Dr Huppert, a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, argued that all MPs should be obliged to take a short science training course, covering areas such as how research is conducted, numeracy and the use of statistics.

The book I was reading was “Reflections on the decline of science in England” and was written by Charles Babbage – in 1830.

It strikes me that equality of opportunity in public life for those who have been scientifically trained might be something worth campaigning for in exactly the same way that other under-represented groups have done in the past – and are still doing of course. Is there anyone out there who fancies joining me – or better still, can point me in the direction of a group which is already attempting to address this power imbalance? Hopefully the next 180 years or so might see some progress!


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