Ideas and Action for a Better India
Mumbai, February 4, 2010: Prof. Jean Marie Lehn, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry today appealed for the continuous progress of scientific research to resolve the pressing social and economic problems confronting mankind, albeit with a strong sense of commitment and responsibility.
Speaking at an interactive session organised by the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai (ORF), Prof. Lehn said, that while questions were being asked about continuing scientific research – especially in the sensitive areas of genetic engineering and stem cell research – stopping further research would amount to closing the road to the future.
“With all the caution that must be exercised and despite the risks that will be encountered, carefully pondering each step, mankind must continue along its path for gaining new knowledge. We have no right to switch off the lights of the future,” Prof. Lehn said.
Prof. Lehn said that the time was not far when aided by scientific research; man would be in a position to direct his own evolution. “Man has progressively become able to take charge of himself and except for a natural or provoked catastrophe, mankind will inevitably end up controlling its own evolution. This is natural, as man, the product of natural evolution will become able to replace random evolution by controlled evolution.”
Prof. Lehn, who will be delivering the Reliance LEAP (Leading Experts Access Programme) Lecture co-hosted by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research on Friday, said that while regulation of research was a necessity, it must not stifle its benefits from reaching the millions. He explained his views by giving an example of the ban on the use of DDT, which was seen as a major victory for the environmentalist movement in the US, but led to escalation of malaria cases in several tropical and usually impoverished countries around the world.
Maintaining that such steps were a result of research-stifling regulation, he emphasised that it was the duty of scientists to optimize the benefits and minimize the risks. This, he emphasised, called for greater cooperation between the scientific community and parliamentarians to design proper policies that will ensure that the benefits of science can be maximised. “Continuing scientific research required the courage to match the dangers, the ambition to meet the challenges, whether they originated from the abyss of our ignorance or from the spectre of our crisis.”
Appealing for greater attention to science education in schools, colleges and universities and even for the general public, Prof. Lehn said that education was “the best tool to train the researchers and discoverers of tomorrow, develop the scientific spirit allay irrational fears and rejections.”
Prof. Lehn said that media, too, had to play a critical role in bringing the benefits of science to the masses. Stating that the media was at present playing a “minimal role” in disseminating information of scientific breakthroughs, there was “an extraordinary contribution to be made at the interface of science and the society.”
Stating that adherence to ethics was crucial in scientific research, he said, that the subject must be looked at in the context of the changing world. “Ethical evaluation and rules of justice have changed and have to adapt with changing times. Law is made for man, not man for law. If it does not fit anymore, change it.”
The event organised by ORF Mumbai, a not-for-profit, multidisciplinary public policy think tank engaged in developing and discussing policy alternatives on a wide-range of issues of local, national and international significance, was chaired by Prof. Spenta Wadia, Director of International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, TIFR. ORF Mumbai Chairman Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni gave the welcome address.
The interactive session with Prof. Jean Marie Lehn was widely reported in the media and on blogs; the reports can be accessed on the following links: