Science & Human Dimension Project
The Science and Human Dimension Project
is a public understanding of science, medicine and ethics programme
based at Jesus College, Cambridge
. Through conferences and lectures, the project brings together academics and other experts with
people from the media - publishers, journalists, and producers
- to deepen and broaden their appreciation of new ideas and discoveries
The SHDP also broadens its scope to address ethical and religious questions, such as the controversy over
human embryonic stem cell research, and the media coverage of ethics and faiths. At times we are intent on
tackling subjects illustrative of knowledge purely for its own sake.
The meetings are a means of achieving outreach from the university,
the seminar room and the laboratory, to the media and to a wider non-specialist public.
Conference proceedings are published by SHDP, Oxford University Press and Continuum.
Previous participants and speakers include:
Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and Master, Trinity College, Cambridge
Dr Oliver Sacks, MD, Physician, author, neurologistGerald Edelman, biologist and Nobel Prize Winner
Sir Francis Crick OM FRS, biologist and Nobel Prize WinnerSydney Brenner, biologist and Nobel Prize Winner
Freeman Dyson, physicistSir Anthony Kenny, philosopher
Professor Lewis Wolpert, CBE FRS FRSL, developmental biologistJohn Searle, philosopher
George Steiner, philosopher and criticSir Roger Penrose OM FRS, mathematical physicist
Professor Peter Atkins, chemist and authorAlasdair MacIntyre, moral philosopher, University of Notre Dame
William Keegan, The ObserverNeal Ascherson, The Observer
Ed Stourton, BBCA.N.Wilson, author
Professor Ben Pimlott, historianBrian Appleyard, journalist
John Naughton, Professor of Public Understanding of Technology, The Open UniversityMarina Warner, author
Michael Frayn, playwright and novelistDavid Lodge, novelist
Mary Midgely, philosopherProfessor John Barrow FRS, physicist and mathematician
Professor Roger Schank, elearning pioneerProfessor Margaret Boden OBE, congnitive scientist and philosopher
John Polkinghorne, KBE FRS, physicist and priestPaul Churchland and Patrician Churchland, neurobiologists
Professor of Journalism, City University, former Foreign Editor, The TimesAbd al-Bari Atwan
Editor, Al-Quds Al-Arabi Newspaper
Chief Adviser, Editorial Policy, BBCSir Peter Lachmann,FRS, Emeritus Professor of Immunology,
Religions Editor, ReutersJohn Lloyd, Director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University
Executive Producer, BBC Religion and EthicsJulius Lipner,
Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion, Cambridge University
Andrew Brown, Editor, Comment is Free: Belief, The GuardianJanet Soskice,
Professor of Philosophical Theology, Cambridge University
, journalist and presenter, BBCJohn Thompson,
Professor of Sociology, Cambridge University
John Vidal, The Guardian
The Science and Human Dimension Project is not for profit and actively seeks sponsorship of its activities. Sponsors of previous conferences include Nature
, the New Scientist
the Wellcome Trust, and Chiroscience Ltd.
Science - The Next Generation
11 May 2011
Jesus College, Cambridge
Background and Overview
Not so long ago Lord Drayson, UK science minister, commissioned a report, Science and the Media – Securing the Future written by a group chaired by Fiona Fox, director of the Science Media Centre. The report drew on research conducted by Cardiff University journalism department. While being relatively optimistic, the findings warned of serious threats to the quality and independence of science reporting due to wider crises in the media. Major economic and institutional changes in the traditional print and broadcast media, not least circulation falls and the pressures of ratings, have added to the constraints under which journalists work at the best of times.
The results are heavier workloads, and shorter deadlines, leading to less scope to investigate and check facts; greater reliance on limited pools of news sources, a tendency to sensationalize and trivialize. Staff cuts, reductions in editorial space, a squeeze on editorial budgets have meant less opportunities for free-lancers and staff appointments. The new media appears to offer unprecedented scope for aspiring science journalists to be published, but does this make for reliable journalism or constitute a real potential for making a living?
Nevertheless, the impact of the science media (including medicine, technology) on society, the economy, and the environment, grows apace. High quality, responsible science reporting is crucial both to public understanding of a range of issues as well as the decisions of government.
Over the past two decades the Science and Human Dimension Project at Jesus College, Cambridge, has convened conferences as a contribution to public understanding of science. Our aim has been to enhance the quality of the science media and to encourage scientists to participate in outreach to the public.
This one-day meeting on Wednesday May 11, 2011 (in association with City University Journalism School and BlueSci) brought together a group of young scientists to discuss the problems and constraints, the scope and potential, of careers in science journalism at a time of rapid media change and challenge. We took advice from Lord Martin Rees, Professor John Naughton, Roger Highfield, Peter Tallack, Lou Woodley, Philip Ball, and Clive Cookson. The structure of the meeting was designed to promote an exchange of viewpoints and a sharing of experiences. Each segment was be introduced briefly by two seasoned practitioners: followed by open-floor discussion. The proceedings will be available for dissemination to schools of journalism and the wider public.
Registration: 9.00-9.45am Prioress’s Room, Cloister Court, Jesus College
Introduction: 9.45am Upper Hall, Jesus College
Session 1: 10.00-10.50am: Prof John Naughton (OU and The Observer) and Lou Woodley (Nature)
Science Journalism in an Era of New Media: Opportunities and Challenges
Session 2: 11.30-12.30am: David Adam (Nature)
Popular Interest in Science: the Next “Big Stories”
Session 3: 1.45-2.45pm: Andrew Brown (The Guardian), Dennis Alexander (Faraday Institute)
Impact of Science Journalism on Culture and Society
Session 4: 2.45-3.45pm: Simon Singh (author), Adam Wishart (author and film maker)
Ethics and Science Media: Constraints and Dilemmas, Accuracy and Honesty
Session 5: 4.15-5.15pm: Peter Tallack (The Science Factory), Christopher Potter (author and publisher)
Prospects For Science Books: Markets, E-publishing, Academic versus Non-Academic
The Irrelevance of Ethics
Lecture by Alasdair MacIntyre
Science & Human Dimension Project - Prospect Magazine Lecture
On 3 June 2010 Professor Alasdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue
and some thirty books on ethics, gave a lecture sponsored by the Science & Human Dimension Project and Prospect magazine. The text of the article John Cornwell wrote for Prospect magazine’s October 2010 issue on the lecture and its background is available here
Ethics and the Media in an Era of Complex Moral Challenge
23 February 2010
Jesus College, Cambridge
The Science & Human Dimension Project held a round-table workshop for an exchange of views on media coverage of ethical and religious issues, and to discuss the launch of a forum for ethics in the public space called Ethicscope. A constituency of leading journalists, ethicists and representatives of different faiths discussed the access, fairness, balance and quality of ethical perspectives in print, radio, TV, photojournalism and online media.
Our aim ultimately was to explore ways in which media practitioners at every level can develop and enhance their ethical insights and presentation of issues. This meeting occured at a time when the domains of politics, medical science, business, economics, the environment, social and human rights, face increasingly complex and unprecedented choices and judgments. At the same time, the world’s leading faiths are experiencing mounting challenges and scrutiny from secular and pluralist standpoints.
The proceedings of this meeting are
God and the Philosophers
Public interest in religious debate has recently been fed by a series of books of popular polemic against theism, religion and the discipline of theology itself. A small industry has grown up around these works - by authors such as Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. Philosophers, theologians convened to debate and reflect on their attitudes to religion and the status and sources of their various religious and spiritual sympathies, their secularism or agnosticism. Speakers included Sir Anthony Kenny, Michael McGhee, and Nicholas Lash.
Ethics of Human Embryo Research
Following the EU’s granting of funding for human embryonic stem cell research in July 2006, some declared the arguments and debate against it, over whilst others thought it had barely begun. The aim of this conference was to explore the meaning of the term soul within the Judaic-Christian tradition to test the strength of the Cartesian idea which is often taken for granted in the ethical debate: as in a human being is “ensouled” at the moment of conception.
Report on Media and Development in Africa: A Case Study based on North Kenya
This conference explored the media coverage of development and aid in Africa. Senior Kenyan development workers discussed poverty, development and the media with specialists from NGOs, the Department for International Development, charities, development academics, and journalists.
Creativity and Depression
There has long been a notion that creativity and imagination are associated with forms of depression and even psychosis. This conference explored a wide-ranging approach to the topic, including literary, historical, and psychiatric perspectives.
The discussion focused particularly on the way in which depression is reported in the media as well biographically and autobiographically.
The Anthropic Principle and the Multiverse
Physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne and Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, tackled the notion of the anthropic principle - the existence of numerical accidents in the Universe that were essential for the development of life.
“Copenhagen”: Science, War, and the Devil’s Pact
The conference explored the ethics of science, using as a focus Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen which was staged at the conference with Michael Frayn fielding questions. Mark Walker and Paul Lawrence Rose spoke directly to the German historical and biographical background of Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. Other speakers included Walter Gratzer, Lewis Wolpert, Henning Grunwald and John Naughton.
The growth in the use of the internet and related technologies for teaching and learning
brought together a variety of distance and e-learning specialists from Europe, and the United
States, working mainly in the fields of publishing and tertiary level education
Explanations: Styles of Explanation in Science
This meeting brought together philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, and anthropologists to discuss why explanations work, why they vary between disciplines, periods, and cultures, and to discover whether they have any necessary boundaries. The issues engaged the keen interest of the participants from the media, for it is in journalism that the notion of an explanation is often misused or misunderstood. Speakers included Peter Atkins, Sir Martin Rees, Peter Lipton, Colin McGinn and Juliet Mitchell.
Consciousness and Human Identity
Consciousness has puzzled philosophers, naturalists, and theologians down the ages. Now it has caught the interest of contemporary scientists, some of whom believe they are on the brink of discovering its basis in neurobiological processes. This meeting of neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, theologians and novelists, discussed the prospects and consequences for finding a scientific explanation of consciousness. Speakers included Margaret Boden, John Searle, Steven Rose, Mary Midgely, Jeremy Butterfield, Peter Lipton and David Lodge.
The Next Generation
The Science and Human Dimension Project brought twenty four young scientists together to discuss the future of their disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science, and medicine.This meeting was supported by Wellcome Trust, Chiroscience Ltd, and the New Scientist.
Science and the Media
This specialist forum for participants from the science media was convened to discuss current issues of interest and concern. Speakers included Nigel Hawkes of The Times, John Maddox of Nature, Ravi Mirchandani of Penguin¸ Alun Anderson of the New Scientist and Duncan Dallas of Café Scientifique. The meeting was sponsored by Nature.
Plato and Mathematics
Logicians and philosophers of mathematics discussed the mathematical Platonism with Penelope Maddy, Michael Redhead, Tim Smiley, Jeremy Butterfield, and Peter Smith. Is mathematics created by the mind or does it have an extra-mental existence, and what are the implications for philosophy?
Sir Francis Crick on Scientific Search for the Soul
Nobel Prize winner Sir Francis Crick discussed his book The Astonishing Hypothesis in which he argues that explanations for human higher order consciousness are best studied from the “bottom up”.
A group of world-class mathematicians, scientists, and professors of mathematical education explored the role of mathematics in different academic disciplines.
Reductionism’s Primacy in the Natural Sciences
This conference brought together world class neuroscientists, mathematicians, physicists, philosophers, psychiatrists, biologists, engineers, publishers and journalists to discuss to what extent reductionist method is shaping, and “reducing”, psychology, social studies, and even the humanities? Speakers included Nobel Prize Winner Gerald Edelman, Oliver Sacks, Freeman Dyson, Roger Penrose, John D Barrow, Paul M. Churchland, Patricia Churchland, Mary Midgely, and Peter Atkins.