Tuesday saw the second meeting of the Academic Society in which Mr Cottrell spoke on the subject of ‘Science is the answer?’. In his inimitable way (references to a significant OW, deep fried canary, eel reproduction, Norwich Football Club and lots of ‘jokes’) Mr Cottrell spoke about the advances that science has enabled in terms of medicine, understanding the world around us and advancing the comfort with which humans live their lives. He also spoke about the potential science has to solve current and future problems. He explained how if the history of the universe was seen as the width of the Science Lecture Theatre (about five metres) then human existence would cover the width of a piece of paper. Within that the scientific approach is so recent that one can argue if science has achieved so much in such a short space of time, what can be achieved in the future?
However, Mr Cottrell presented a far more sceptical view of science than many of us had expected. He argued we tend to trust scientists and that there have been frequent examples of scientists falsifying data (for a variety of reasons). Scientific understanding is still exceptionally crude and future generations will look back and laugh at many of our explanations. It would take 13.7 billion light years to travel from one edge of the known universe to the other but so far the one of the greatest achievement of humans is imaging the Earth from five and a half light-hours ‘away’. Equally much of science is controlled by big business. Should it be? If not should it be scientists, governments, the voters, or the big corporations who decide what science should and shouldn’t do? Thought provoking stuff.
In questions Mr Cottrell was asked ‘If he could be a particle, which would he be?’. His answer, ‘a preon’. Of course!