John Dupré, 14 November 1996
Scientists would sometimes like us to believe that science is just too difficult for the comprehension of ordinary mortals. Given the increasing diversity of specialities, moreover, there is no chance for anyone, scientist or otherwise, to understand more than fragments of it. Only committees of complementary experts, it would appear, will be able to make intelligent decisions when scientific advances raise questions of science’s answerability to society. This fear is greatly exaggerated. Although there are areas of science which it requires familiarity with advanced mathematics to understand, these are few and, as a rule, have no great relevance to public policy. Despite its prestige, high-energy physics has little obvious practical relevance to anything but the level of public funding of high-energy physics. A good sense of the fundamentals of most science is not beyond the reach of the educated outsider. The level of expertise required to grasp the broad implications of research is not the same as that required to advance that research. The real problems lie elsewhere.