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Lord Winston warns of the crisis facing science 

On Monday, November 17 the TV champion of medical science Lord Winston gave a public lecture at the University of Leicester outlining what he called 'the biggest ever crisis' to face science.   [Photo: Lord Winston]

For an hour Lord Winston aired his growing concerns over the public's distrust of science. "This fear of science", he said, "will stop societyís progression, because progression depends upon scientific research and advancements in technology."

The fertility expert was invited to speak in Leicesterís prestigious Haldane lecture series, which aims to unite academic study with everyday public concerns. His lecture to a packed audience was entitled Manipulating Reproduction and Playing God. 

According to Lord Winston, the publicís fear surrounding subjects like nuclear waste disposal, the future of nuclear power, foot and mouth disease, MMR triple vaccine, GM crops and embryonic stem cell research are paralysing scientific research. He said, "ethical answers to these problems have to change according to our changing understanding of the natural world." To gain understanding, research must be carried out. 

Lord Winston emphasised the controversy over GM crops, saying anti-GM protesters who dismiss this area of research and spread fear are doing great harm to humanity.  "People show little understanding of what genetic modification really means, and by sabotaging the research they also sabotage the possibility of increased food production in starving third world countries."

Regarding human cloning, he said it will never become a reality because of the increased risk of fetal death and neonatal mortality shown by the Dolly the Sheep experiment. 

Despite the bad image that transgenic technology has, it can in fact do much good.  Lord Winstonís own research into transgenic technology could help males who risk infertility when they undergo X-ray treatment, since this kills sperm. He has successfully implanted cells that produce male sperm into another maleís testes, so that the surrogate male produces sperm with the donorís genes.   

Lord Winston also addressed the recent debate surrounding embryo sex determination, saying it "will offer more reproductive choice. The effect on society will be innocuous because an imbalance of males/females will make the other sex more greatly valued. I expect the male/female cell sorting technology to flourish in the next few years, making a ban by the UK regulatory authority irrelevant."

Lord Winston ended with instructions to scientists: Be sensitive to ethical issues, engage the public in discussion, beware of exaggeration and over-confidence, recognise concerns over commercial exploitation and let the people own the science they pay for. 

[Photo: Lord Winston signing autographs]
RESPECTED: Lord Winston signs autographs after his lecture
press release]

Sophie Cash

For more information contact Colin Ockleford, BSc PhD FRCPath ILTM
Post-graduate Tutor
Department of Infection Immunity and Inflammation
University of Leicester
+44 (0)116 252 3020 (Office telephone) 

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Last updated: 18 November 2003 15:00
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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