Every year, the New York literary agent John Brockman asks a big question of leading scientists, writers and futurists, garnering a variety of thoughtful answers which Andrian Kreye described as "One of the most stimulating pieces of (collective) writing ever."

What will change everything? 2009

The Credit Crunch for Materialism

Answers from others

What have you changed your mind about? Why? 2008

The Skepticism of Believers

Answers from others

What is your dangerous idea? 2006

A Sense of Direction Involving New Scientific Principles

Answers from others

What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it? 2005

Most of the So-Called Laws of Nature are More Like Habits

Answers from others

What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them? 2003

Really Popular Science, New York Times, 2003

Answers from others


Oxford Magazine, Fifth week, Trinity Term, 2008

SIR,

Jerome Ravetz's article Publics, understandings and science (Oxford Magazine, week 0, Trinity Term,) raises important points about the future of the Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science. The implications go far beyond Oxford itself.

When this chair was founded in 1995, the Public Understanding of Science (PUS) was a fashionable movement. But the "deficit model" on which it was based is now seen as ineffective, and its credibility was undermined by some of its most eminent proponents, who saw PUS as a platform for the proclamation of atheistic materialism. Since the turn of the millennium, attitudes have shifted and PUS has been replaced in official circles with public participation or public engagement with science. The government-sponsored Committee on the Public Understanding of Science (chaired by Professor Lewis Wolpert) was disbanded in 2002.

Hopefully the new holder of the Simonyi Chair at Oxford will be sensitive to the need to engage, rather than convert, the public.

Charles Simonyi's manifesto for this chair makes it clear he is not in favour of appointing a populariser. As he put it, In some cases [popularisers] seduce less educated audiences by offering a patronisingly over simplified or exaggerated view of the state of the art or the scientific process itself While the role of populariser may still be valuable, nevertheless it is not one supported by this chair.

Yours sincerely

Rupert Sheldrake

London

Photo Perets2001

Toronto Globe and Mail, February 4, 2006
Rupert reviews Daniel Dennett's book
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

In this book, Daniel Dennett proclaims himself "bright." He is impressed by the success of homosexuals in calling themselves "gay," and, together with the evolutionist Richard Dawkins, he is trying to re-brand atheism.

The results so far have been disappointing. One problem is that calling yourself bright sounds arrogant. Dennett, a U.S. philosopher of mind, suggests a new solution: "Those who are not brights are not necessarily dim. . . . Since, unlike us brights, they believe in the supernatural, perhaps they would like to call themselves supers."

Nature, 18 November 2004

Sir - Your editorial "Going Public" (Nature 431, 883; 2004) makes a persuasive case for upstream public engagement in science funding. No doubt setting up committees of non-scientists to advise the existing funding bodies is a step in the right direction. But there is also a more radical possibility, namely to set aside a small proportion of the public science budget, say 1%, for research proposed by lay people.


New Scientist, April 19, 2003

New Scientist, April 19, 2003
by Rupert Sheldrake

SCIENCE has always been elitist and undemocratic, whether in monarchies, communist states or liberal democracies. But it is currently becoming more hierarchical, not less so, and this trend needs remedying.

In the 19th century, Charles Darwin was just one of many independent researchers who, not reliant on grants or constrained by the conservative pressures of anonymous peer review, did stunningly original work. That kind of freedom and independence has become almost non-existent. These days, the kinds of research that can happen are determined by science funding committees, not the human imagination. What is more, the power in those committees is increasingly concentrated in the hands of politically adept older scientists, government officials and representatives of big business . Young graduates on short-term contracts constitute a growing scientific underclass. In the US, the proportion of biomedical grants awarded to investigators under 35 plummeted from 23 per cent in 1980 to 4 per cent today.