Haldane Lecture 2024: Which science, for which society? Fostering a sustainable relation between science and society

Today, as scientific and technological innovation is seen as fundamental to the future development of contemporary societies, the relationship between science and society requires closer attention than ever before. While science and technology have been seen as instruments of social progress and personal opportunity, the last decade has been marked by friction and conflict over techno-scientific issues that pose serious challenges to democratic societies. Whether it is the COVID pandemic, measures to combat climate change, new genetically modified organisms or digitalisation, they all point to the development of a new relationship between scientific knowledge production and economic and political power. While the demand for expert knowledge is increasing and science seems to be becoming a more prominent societal actor – think of the increasing talk about societal impact, innovation, … – scientific knowledge is simultaneously facing increasing doubts and contestation and the distance to those who are supposed to be governed by this knowledge seems to be growing. This presentation will explore the considerations necessary to build and maintain a sustainable relationship between science and society under these changing boundary conditions, while preserving science’s essential capacity to be a source of impartial critical authority.

The Haldane Lecture is given by a speaker of international standing in the field of science each Hilary Term. It is named after J. S. and J. B. S. Haldane, who carried out a number of pioneering experiments in the house that formerly stood on site of Wolfson College. Past speakers include Sir Martin Evans, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, Professor V. S. Ramachandran, Sir Iain Chalmers, Professor Kathy Willis and Professor Sir Chris Whitty.