S.P.R. Rose1
Professor of Biology and Director, Brain and Behaviour Research Group, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, U.K.
colleagues in the Science Faculty of the Open Universitywho have over the past 33 years struggled with the toughart of communicating science in public – and to a publicabout whom no preconceptions were permitted except that of their commitment to learning. In the early days of the OU, Biochemical Society Award
the tiny science staff spent many hours debating just how such communication – and at a distance – might be possible.
Outside the university, many, of course, were sceptical.
We initial eight science appointees – two in each of four disciplines – were carried along by the charismatic enthusiasm of our first Dean, Mike Pentz, an ex-South African, ex- Steven Rose
nuclear engineer for whom nothing appeared impossible.
We discussed what seemed a key distinction – were we toteach science, or were we to teach about science? Mike hadno doubts; it was to be the former, but always it was to be Abstract
science in its social context, which meant that students were tobe given a critical understanding of modern science. We were Protagonists for ‘the public understanding of science’ still committed to the Baconian view that knowledge is power, sometimes fail to recognize that there is also a need for so that if power was to be democratized, it was essential ‘the scientists’ understanding of the public’ and that for most that knowledge too be democratized, that science be made ‘a of science most of the time we are all public. ‘Science’ is science for the people.’ If those goals have somewhat receded communicated to ‘the public’ through popular books, museums, in the years that followed, as the university grew to become TV, the Internet, but far too often the present state of scientific the giant enterprise it is today, some of us at least have tried belief is presented uncritically as the onward march of truth as discovered by Euro-American males. This has contributed My second acknowledgement is more personal. I am to a widespread public concern, if not mistrust, in many a biochemist by training, a neurochemist by doctorate, a areas of science, not least genetics and neuroscience. Although neuroscientist by adoption. But for more than 40 years I have researchers often criticize the media for misrepresenting their been conducting my laboratory research under the watchful work, the hype and simplifications often begin with the press scrutiny of a sociologist – and not just any sociologist, but releases put out by the researchers, their institutions and the feminist sociologist of science Hilary Rose. Very little the scientific journals themselves. I conclude by looking more of what I have to say this evening would I even have been optimistically at the ways in which, by bringing natural science aware of were it not for her continued refusal to accept into theatre, novels and other art forms, the fragmentation of unquestioningly the imperializing claims of natural science to – as she puts it – speak truth to power.
‘Science’ and ‘The Public’
In accepting my share of this award, with its magnificent new Back in the late 1960s, Hilary Rose and I, along with a medal, I must begin with two acknowledgements. First, in small group of like-minded youngish radicals, set about a sense I feel that I am accepting it on behalf of my many establishing a new organization, somewhat pompously called‘The British Society for Social Responsibility in Science’. Ourmanifesto criticized the prevailing notion of the ‘neutrality’ Key words: media, public understanding of science, science communication.
of science. Heavily influenced by the radical demands of the Abbreviations used: BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy; GM, genetically modified; MAOA, student movements of 1968, and intensely critical of the uses monoamine oxidase A; NMDAR, N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor.
1 e-mail of science and technology in the Vietnam war, we argued that Biochemical Society Transactions (2003) Volume 31, part 2 science and technology were intimately part of the industrial– Two cultures?
military complex of advanced capitalist societies, and that it Part of the trouble is that the shadow of C.P. Snow’s simply was not possible to separate a ‘pure’ science from the misconceived invention of ‘the two cultures’ still lies heavily context in which it was commissioned, funded, researched, across us, and, approaching half a century after he first coined published and exploited. What was perhaps seen then by the phrase, it is still regularly invoked. The English cultural mainstream scientists as an outlandish critique that seemed world, he argued (though actually I suspect he really meant to threaten the autonomy of science as the unfettered pursuit the Oxbridge High Table world) is divided between Science of truth, has these days become almost conventional wisdom, and Arts – the capitalization is significant – even though later as politicians urge scientists to function as active agents he offered the social sciences as a third culture. Scientists of wealth creation and universities eagerly seek industrial were the ‘men with the future in their bones.’ What is more, partnerships. Meanwhile, public trust in science has been they were cultured; they all knew that Shakespeare wrote eroded by a series of catastrophes, such as nuclear pollution Hamlet, whilst almost no ‘Arts Man’ could quote the Second and BSE, rightly or wrongly regarded as the consequences of Law of Thermodynamics. I was sufficiently impressed by this an unbridled scientific optimism that neglects any semblance definition of scientific culture that at a Biology Department of the precautionary principle in the search for quick and meeting a few years back I asked my academic colleagues how profitable technologies. As for the relationship between many of them could quote the Second Law. Less than half it science and the military, these words are written as the choice turned out – though they did all know who wrote Hamlet.
between peace and a highly scientized war hangs yet again Truth is, that despite certain powerful exponents of the claims to the unity of scientific culture, we live in a world of many Under these circumstances the issue of the nature of ‘the different and fragmented knowledges. There is no one science, public communication of science’ has come to the urgent and no one scientific method. The world as perceived by attention of both politicians and scientific administrators.
a biologist like myself is rather different from that as seen A clear sign of the times was the publication in the early by a cosmologist or a sociologist. Our problems, methods, 1990s of the Royal Society’s Bodmer report on the Public styles of observation, standards of proof and experi- Understanding of Science, with its unfortunate acronym of mental design are very different. Lumping us together, as PUS. This was followed by the establishment of the relevant representatives of one of the two cultures, is like assuming committee – COPUS – jointly with the Royal Institution that the agendas of novelists and musicians are also identical.
and the British Association. There followed the commission The entomologist and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson’s argument of surveys purporting to reveal the woeful ignorance of for ‘consilience’ – the submergence of all other knowledges, the public on such matters as the Newtonian view of the from ethics to sociology and psychology under the banner of relationship between the Earth and the Sun or the number of metres of gut each human possesses, to say nothing ofother potential strategies for high scores in Trivial Pursuits.
In those early days, ‘science’ and ‘the public’ were seen as twodistinct but relatively undifferentiated masses; if only ‘the Communication
public’ were less ignorant of the ‘facts’ of science, it would Precisely because of this fragmentation, I believe that the need love and trust us scientists more. I recall the resistance of a for multiple routes and directions of communication between previous Chair of COPUS to accepting either that ‘science’ those of us who have particular expertises and all the rest who included the social as well as natural sciences or the inclusion do not has never been greater. The challenges thrown up by of engineering into its remit. It took time to accept that runaway technologies, notably these days coming from the ‘understanding’ is a two-way street, demanding the scientists’ bio- and info-sciences, are profoundly shaping our futures, understanding of the public as well as the reverse. One and if we are to control them in the interest of all the many consequence has been the increasing efforts to ‘open’ science publics, then communication is an essential first step – though to public scrutiny – for instance the decision to hold open I will continue to emphasize that communication without the meetings of the Human Genetics Commission and the Food power to influence the outcomes is as dangerous an illusion Standards Agency in locales across the country.
as that which argues that an elected parliament can control But it still hasn’t quite sunk in within the ‘public the power of transnational companies.
understanding debate’ that there are both a multitude of There is of course a huge volume of communication of and sciences and a multitude of publics; that all of us are the about science today – perhaps more than at any previous time.
lay public for most areas of science outside our own narrow It includes books and museums, TV, radio, the Internet, the specialisms (and even if scientists in general have come press. But I will begin with the oldest form of all, the book.
to accept this, there is still a long way for many journalists to In the English-speaking world, and perhaps particularly in go, judging by the tabloid newspapers’ continuing enthusiasm Britain, the last two decades have seen an extraordinary for marvelling, if also slightly ironized, accounts of the upsurge in popular science book publishing. It is easy to latest activities of us ‘boffins’). But as will become clear as date it from the phenomenal – and unanticipated – success I continue, it is far from my intention today to shoot the of Steven Hawking’s Brief History of Time. No-one quite messengers; the problem is closer at hand.
knew why the book did so well, but a consequence was that publishers and literary agents began to compete to develop But that is long gone. Museums have become pop, and new science lists, and in the course of doing so turned curators are packed off to Disneyland by their directors some natural scientists into literary superstars, commanding to learn the latest in attracting the crowds. It isn’t just large advances, increasingly invited to become media celebs, a U.K. phenomenon, where lottery money is encouraging available to comment on anything from the existence of God new building – new museums are springing up across the and the nature of consciousness to the morality of genetic world, offering staggering opportunities for dramatic new architecture, a hymn to the power of science. But once Of course, this is not the first time in history that books inside, the message is all rather similar – an unremittingly on big scientific ideas have commanded public attention.
Whiggish account of the voyage from the darkness of Publisher John Murray’s first print run of Darwin’s Origin ignorance and superstition to the light of modern truth.
of Species sold out on the first day of publication (we may Science is presented almost exclusively as the triumphal work reflect ruefully on how much faster it was to get a book of white Euro-American males. And its equation with power from handwritten manuscript through hot lead printsetting is always symbolically present. The great gallery of Valencia’s to publication in the 1850s than it is today with all the power spectacular City of Science, nearly 200 metres long, features of computer technology). The 1920s and 1930s saw such an unreflecting progression from Foucault’s pendulum, to publishing successes as books by Hogben, Eddington, Jeans, a representation of the DNA double helix, to a Mirage jet and J.B.S. Haldane. Although today the ‘educated lay public’ fighter. Only one museum to my knowledge – Wellcome’s life is much larger than ever before, the change in the zeitgeist science exhibition in its Euston Road building – has tried to from the 1970s onward is also an important factor. When in raise issues of public involvement in science decision making.
the glorious sixties, if not revolution, then at least social justice True, things have moved on beyond mere display cabinets.
and national liberation seemed there for the grasping, it was Hands-on exhibits become more common. Pioneered by the social, not the natural, sciences that seemed best able to Frank Oppenheimer’s Exploratorium in San Francisco, explain and help change the world. In the dourer decades of demonstrations of physical principles by centrifuging mu- Thatcherian and post-Thatcherian individualism, the dreams seum visitors, or of perceptual problems by visual illusions, of Utopia have receded into at best a dreary managerialism.
are now not only central to dedicated new Science Centres Oscillating between the selfish gene and the mind of God, (Bristol, Halifax and many others) but have invaded the floor between the apparent certainties of the natural world and space of great museums like those in London’s Exhibition theistic mysterianism, seems more appealing. Nonetheless Road. Sadly, however, ‘hands-on’ more often seems to mean there are signs today that the science book market may have little more than interacting with a computer, and you only become glutted – there is a limit on how many speculative have to spend a few minutes watching youngsters dash from accounts of human evolution, theories of consciousness, and computer to computer, pressing the odd key before moving histories of the universe from the Big Bang to post-modernity on, to realize that for all the educational benefit they would be doing better with their PlayStations.
But for those of us who both write and read such books, it A further manifestation is the rash of science festivals has been an exciting time. Big scientific ideas are being debated across Britain, partly in response to the European call for not merely in the pages of specialist journals – or even Nature national science weeks. The message here is mainly that – but out in the open, in front of savvy audiences. Scientific science is vibrant and fun, and can even be popular, as chemists conflict as well as consensus is there for all to see. I still find demonstrate the physics of Black Forest gateaux and postdocs it extraordinary, to quote a personal episode, that when my invade shopping arcades offering to ‘bar-code your granny.’ book Lifelines and Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works – There are more serious agendas though – the Edinburgh books in profound disagreement – were published a few years Science Festival (on whose board of Directors my co-awardee ago, the debate between Pinker and myself in London packed Bernard Dixon and I have both served) offers a mix of fun and in an audience of 1000 or so. It has been suggested that this is a more serious discussions and debates in front of a famously very British phenomenon – that it could never have happened literate Scottish audience. So successful has Edinburgh been in New York, for instance. Certainly the average sales figures that even the staid British Association relabelled its annual for a popular science book in the U.K. are not very different meeting a ‘festival.’ And there have been imaginative attempts from those in the U.S., despite a population only one-fifth to involve the general public in observing and experimenting, the size. I don’t know the reasons, but that it could happen collecting data that is only made possible by such types of here at all attests to the relevance of these debates to public mass observation – we ran several of these in the early days of the OU, from measuring sulphur dioxide pollution in yourback yard to trapping and identifying moth species to providenational ecological maps.
From books to museums and other public displays of science.
The ‘Media’
Time was when science museums were full of dusty display These are interesting and in some ways encouraging cabinets and detailed explanatory notes in 8-point type.
developments. But up till now I have been talking entirely Biochemical Society Transactions (2003) Volume 31, part 2 about communication of science in institutions dedicated as Viagra for company market value even though the drugs to such communication. In much of the media ‘science’ has to battle for attention with politics, economics and ‘culture,’to say nothing of the sexual antics of media and sportscelebs, and it is here that some of the greatest problems Research headlines
lie. Scientists regularly complain that they don’t get enough I have been particularly interested in following the press media coverage, though actually I think there is an abundance.
handling of claims to have identified genes ‘for’ such aspects I don’t mean just the obvious radio and TV programmes, the of the human condition as sexual orientation, ‘intelligence,’ Horizons, Tomorrow’s Worlds, Leading Edges and Material ‘aggression,’ and so forth. The headlines make fascinating Worlds. Science – forensic science of course – crops up in reading. When Dean Hamer claimed, in a paper in Science police dramas; cosmology and particle physics appear in 1993 [1], that he had identified a gene marker for in endless science fiction sagas – if not exactly as physicists male homosexual behaviour (Xq28), the headlines were would prefer. Scarcely a day goes by without, on radio or TV, a reporter crunching and splashing through marshland to “It’s in the genes – how homosexuals are born to be report on some obscure wildlife phenomenon. The scientists’ different” (Daily Mirror, 17 July) complaint can often be translated into a moan that the message “Genes that may chart course of sex life” (Daily Mail, is not being delivered with the respect we scientists would prefer, but is instead transmuted by vulgar journalists, subject “Proof of a poof’ (Sunday Sport, 18 July) to the scrutiny of the unqualified lay masses as if we were just “Mums pass gay gene to sons say doctors” (Sun, 17 July) another interest group. Actually I am going to argue that the “Abortion hope after ‘gay genes’ finding” (Daily Mail, reverse is the case – in general the media are far too deferential to the claims of scientific expertise.
(I owe this selection to Jenny Kitzinger in a forthcoming Scientists often complain that the press oversimplifies, runs to sensationalist headlines that make nonsense of the carefulcaveats in which research papers tend to be wrapped. Would But before castigating the press, it is important to see how that it were so. I don’t want to absolve the press from its those stories emerged. The answer lies in the press releases responsibilities here, but it is important to remember just how put out by Science and in interviews given by Hamer himself, few science journalists there are even on the broadsheets; at which raised all these issues, including Hamer’s suggestion best a couple of staffers to cover everything from cosmology that he would patent the gene or gene marker so as to control to genetic engineering. How can they cope? Well, to a its potential use for prenatal screening. As Kitzinger points considerable extent by drawing on the press releases put out out, below the headlines, the press stories were a good deal by universities and by the scientific journals themselves – more cautious – indeed more cautious than Hamer had been.
notably Nature and Science. The mere thought that such press A comparable example is the famous ‘aggression gene’ releases should exist would have sent shivers down the spines MAOA, now firmly embedded in the public consciousness, of older generations of academics, but we live in a world of whose origin lies in the report in Science by Han Brunner megaphone science. Journals compete for circulation, and and his colleagues [2] of eight men in three generations for carrying ‘hot’ research. Researchers depend on grants of a Dutch pedigree in different parts of the country who for their work, and the higher the public visibility, the according to relatives had shown such characteristics as more likely one feels that one’s work is going to be noticed arson, exhibitionism, or a ‘violent temper.’ All were regarded and the grant money flow in – and I am not claiming to as manifestations of ‘aggression’ and all shared a common have entirely stood back from this process myself. It is no genetic marker, that for the MAOA locus. When a couple good announcing anything less than a major breakthrough, of years later MAOA knockout mice were also reported preferably the discovery of a gene that may (decades later) as having a ‘propensity to bite the experimenters’ (as well result in a ‘cure’ for some appalling condition. You have to as suffering from hunched posture, loss of sleep and early shout to be heard. More seriously, perhaps, the change in the death!), it was the experimenters and the journal that drew mode of production of science has meant that many university the conclusion that the data supported the idea of a human researchers are also company directors or shareholders in aggression gene, and the popular press, and lawyers seeking the new biotech start-up companies. Publicity affects share mitigation claims for their clients, followed suit.
prices. I was told that when a memory researcher in the U.S.
Finally in this context, consider the infamous so-called told the press that he had a potential drug that “could give a ‘smart mouse.’ A group of Princeton researchers led by Joe seventy year old the memory of a twenty year old”, despite Tsien reported in Nature in 1999 [3] that they had inserted the relative failure of the clinical trials, the share value of a gene into mice that resulted in the increased expression of his company doubled overnight. Indeed, Forbes magazine one of the components of a glutamate receptor in the brain, profiled two of the companies formed by researchers Eric coded NMDAR2 and known to be involved in certain forms Kandel and Tim Tully in this field of memory drugs under of maze learning. The overexpressing mice took fewer trials to the headline ‘Viagra for the Brain’, which presumably served learn this particular maze. The paper, and its associated press release, unashamedly claimed that this research suggested that (this is still largely true of Scientific American). But a new “genetic enhancement of mental and cognitive attributes such profession has developed, of freelance science writers, often as intelligence and memory in mammals is possible”, and the postdocs squeezed out of the academic labour market, who press headlines dutifully followed suit, just as did Forbes interview the relevant researchers and write the articles. And magazine’s reporting of the Kandel and Tully claims.
their marginal position makes it very hard for them to actas critical commentators rather than transmission belts – aproblem made even worse by the magazines’ practice of then A critical press
once again rewriting texts to conform to what I at least feel What is needed to counter this upsurge of dramatic claims to be an increasingly dumbed-down and sensationalist house emanating from the laboratories is a far more critical press, one less sycophantic. In no other field, it seems to me, I believe that it is the task of the media to look just is reporting so unsure of itself. Sports writers, political as critically at scientific statements and the interests of the commentators, theatre critics, book reviewers, have no scientists who make them as is now routinely done with problems in saying what they think, but there seems to be politicians and industrialists. Just who are the scientific an awe of science – except when it is so apparently esoteric spokespeople you interview; what are their credentials to that it becomes open to boffin-type jokes. The problem is speak ‘in the name of science’ – and what are their commercial that far too few of those who report the news, or interview interests? Investigative journalism is just as necessary here as ‘scientists’, know enough to treat us as they would do artists anywhere else. Simply regurgitating uncritically the euphoric or politicians. The dictum, I believe due to Jeremy Paxman, press releases issued by universities and leading scientific “why is this bastard lying to me” may not be absolutely the journals is not in the public interest.
way to treat those you interview about scientific matters, but Furthermore, the debates in this area are not just between something considerably more probing would help, if what scientists and their non-scientific critics. Often they lie in we do is to be brought meaningfully and critically into the the heart of science itself. To return again to my examples of the rash of press releases announcing the discovery of But here we run into a real problem. Scientists prefer to be genes ‘for’ behaviour, with behind them the prospect of gene treated deferentially, as experts, and not to be subject to that manipulation to eliminate unwanted and enhance wanted sort of probing. They – we – like to be regarded as infallible.
characteristics: behind the headlines, the serious papers are We don’t like confessing to uncertainty even when we know quite good at discussing the potential ethical and social that we don’t know for sure. And we don’t like it when our issues raised by such discoveries – if they are validated.
claim to be disinterested is challenged. We don’t like debating But shouldn’t the science of such claims be subject to with our critics, from Greenpeace, or Friends of the Earth, or critical debate? But the media has a tendency to treat the Consumers’ Association, who refuse to be overawed by ‘science’ as monolithic, speaking with one voice, when doubt, men in white coats. BSE and GM foods aren’t just examples uncertainty and the clash of competing paradigms are the of political mishandling or media overkill. They are instead, I stuff of scientific advance. What is needed from our scientific believe, indications of problems that are going to arise again communicators is to take courage, get critical, enter the and again as we move into the next century and the challenges heart of the debates, and do not be over-awed by authority.
of a headlong scientific and technological rush towards short- And don’t imagine that there won’t be an audience. As I term profit by biotech and infotech companies and practices have said, debates over the status of so-called evolutionary psychology and the nature of human nature sell books in It would be encouraging to be able to argue that even if great numbers and pack lecture theatres with lay audiences the general media has been less critical than is desirable, then across the country. Or in the world of radio, look at the at least the popular science magazines, better able to assume success of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time (now, I have been general scientific knowledge amongst their readers and able to treat important themes in more depth, would do better.
Certainly, from Scientific American through New Scientistto Focus, they have become glossy enough. As a subscriber Quality control
to the first ever issues of New Scientist in the 1950s, I find Although science and technology permeate every aspect of the contrast between that dour grey journal with its muddy our lives, the media – the TV, radio and newspapers alike – photographs and today’s full colour spectaculars dramatic.
tend to put them into a separate box, labelled Science (I am conscious of sharing this platform with one of those with a capital S, parked somewhere beyond the Snow-line.
who played in his day an important part in this transition.) And especially on television, there is a seemingly endless But there have been other changes too about which I feel less proliferation of stunning natural history programmes, with easy – and I am aware that I am not likely to win myself hushed voice-overs as natural dramas of birth, copulation many friends by mentioning them. In the early days of New and death play themselves out from sea to shining sea. Often Scientist it was generally the researchers themselves, aided such programmes have a hidden, unarticulated agenda, of a it is true by careful subeditors, who wrote the major pieces narrowly interpreted ultra-Darwinist just-so story, especially Biochemical Society Transactions (2003) Volume 31, part 2 when human as well as animal nature is up for grabs.
to respect multiple truths, just as much as learning to sift And sometimes they move into sheer fantasyland. Take, out misinformation or exaggeration, may be one important for example, Walking with Dinosaurs, a programme which feature of multiple communication channels.
I understand broke all records in terms of cost per filmhour, and which achieved pretty impressive viewing figures.
I didn’t see the entire series, but what I did see made me, Taking science out of its box
and I suspect many other biologists, squirm. Of course the Despite the critical tone of much of what I have had to say, animations are superb, even though they are coupled to a I remain committed to the importance of communicating pretty corny Disneyish story line. But the main problem was both science to its publics and the publics to their scientists.
the inability of the programmes to distinguish known fact The sheer volume of such daily communication in multiple from interpretation and sheer speculation. These mini-sagas forms is astonishing and I realize I have only scratched its were presented as life stories without a shadow of uncertainty surface here. But one final point: whilst of course we need our or attempt to explain just how researchers can conclude, from dedicated communication channels, if we are ever to move a pile of old bones, such detail of domestic life. (Actually we towards a sense of the natural and social sciences and the know they can’t, and that many of the commentary’s bland humanities as part of a seamless cultural web, we need to assertions were sheerly speculative.) A huge opportunity was cross the Snow-line, to open the box the media calls ‘science’ lost, to make the point that every working scientist knows and spread its contents around. While I was on COPUS it – at least when we are being honest with ourselves – that became fashionable to argue that theatre and television should most of the time we are dealing not with certainties but with create scientific dramas and soap operas, introduce scientists uncertainties – which may not matter so much when we are into EastEnders or do science like crime or medicine. I’m discussing dinosaurs, but matters greatly when the issues are sceptical, and the little I’ve seen of the attempts to do so – GM foods or BSE. And the borderlines between fact and such as the PAWS (Public Awareness of Science) awards – are generally embarrassing. I mean something different.
This raises the vexed issue of quality control. It may Many of the great questions that natural scientists approach well be that before long the Internet becomes the primary are addressed with as much concern by poets, painters and route of communication from science and medicine to the philosophers, to say nothing of – to ruin my alliteration public. A recent survey by Sharon Kardia found unregulated – social scientists. Shouldn’t we be trying to bring them sites offering gene testing kits for everything from paternity together? For example – again from my own area of interest, and genealogy to prenatal diagnosis of asthma, depression such ‘big ideas’ as the nature of memory or consciousness – and breast cancer. Rejoicing in such names as GeneTree, or cosmological origin myths from Genesis to the Big Bang.
Home Gender Selection Kit, DNA TestingPlace, Quest Shouldn’t the scientific concepts and visions be made to bang Diagnostics, IdentiGene, Nugenix and many others, you up against, illuminate and be illuminated by the others? Some can get full nutragenic profile assessments and personalized novelists and playwrights, from John LeCarr´e, Ian McEwen medical diagnoses to answer your lifestyle questions such as and Antonia Byatt to Michael Frayn, have indeed begun to whether you are at risk of alcoholism, and even advice on self- respond to such themes and have built them into their work.
cloning. The optimistic view would be that the multiplication Isn’t it time for the electronic media to follow suit? Achieving of unedited websites subject to little or no quality control, this might be one major step in democratizing the Baconian containing competing advice and information on almost every conceivable scientific, medical and environmental matter, is aform of democratization of information and communicationthat must be (cautiously) welcomed. A more jaundiced References
account would see many of the sites as the modern version of 1 Hamer, D. (1993) Nature (London) 365, 702
snake oil salesmen. The danger, of course, is of information 2 Brunner, H.G., Nelen, M., Breakefield, X.O., Ropers, H.H. and van Oost, overload, making it impossible to discriminate – but this may B.A. (1993) Science 262, 578–580
3 Tang, Y.P., Shimizu, E., Dube, G.R., Rampon, C., Kerchner, G.A., Zhuo, M., be the lesser evil. Much as I, like many other scientists, would Liu, G. and Tsien, J.Z. (1999) Nature (London) 401, 63–69
like to continue to believe that we are indeed (sole?) purveyorsof truth, a little humility is not out of place. Learning



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