David Davies: scientists of the 1970s tended not to take part in moral debates

David Davies comments on the tendency for scientists not to offer opinions on or generate moral debates during his editorship of Nature journal, 1973-1980.

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I mean the – the problem is that scientists have access to a lot of information. They have sort of prior warning of things that are coming up that could be problematic, they get to meet a lot of people at conferences who will pass on information to them, and do they feel that gives them a special moral position compared with the man in the street? And I think it does because if you’re privy to information then you ought to be – you ought not to shrug your shoulders and say, ‘Well I’m aware of the fact that it is going on but this is just a – a piece of scientific information.’ But did people ever sort – did people ever ring me up at Nature and say – or write to me and say, ‘I’m concerned about this issue which is not being taken seriously by the government, or by the administrators,’ or some?  No. I mean in – did people – I mean did – you see in … you see in newspapers all the time and you get newspapers’ opinions and then you get correspondence that sort of battles it or says I know more on this subject, blah blah blah. And so there’s a sort of endless sort of battle between the editorial and the correspondent side, shouldn’t have said that or we could pass you more information. Didn’t really get very much of that at all. It was quite difficult to fill – I mean we tried to have a page at least of correspondence on issues, every week, and it was difficult to fill it. As if either scientists didn’t read about issues or if they felt strongly about them they didn’t feel strongly enough to either ring me up or write saying, drawing my attention to it, it was quite – it was quite difficult getting opinions from outside as it – as it were. One had to sort of – in a way almost sort of generate them oneself by going looking for things and then ringing people up and saying, ‘I wonder is this the case and could you tell me a bit more and who could I talk to?’ A lot of scientists don’t want to be self starters in this, they want, they – you know, and so occasionally we had to do the starting for them but I can’t – I mean I don’t know whether we ever had very much influence [laughs].

  • Interviewee David Davies
  • Duration 00:02:52
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 2/2/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/60

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