By Anna Perman, Communities Manager at the British Science Association



I get very bored of the arts and the sciences getting set up against each other, as if we have to be at war with each other, rather than being on the same side. So I was pretty surprised to hear these sentiments from someone who has been a great advocate for both arts and technology over the years, Brian Eno.

Every year, BBC Music’s John Peel Lecture invites a notable figure from the music industry to shape a debate, and discuss music and media associated with it.  Brian Eno is a notable producer , musician and artist who is known as one of the fathers of ambient music. 

Eno’s John Peel lecture examined the ecology of culture, and argued against the defining culture as an industry, and in favour of re-defining it as ‘a set of collective rituals that we can all engage with’. I listened, I agreed, I applauded.

But Eno mentioned that he had canvassed 20  scientists and 20 artists on what they think their field does. He found that the scientists all said the same thing – that science ‘finds out new things’, while the artists had a range of ideas. I wondered why there had to be a dig at the sciences in there at all?

I value the theatre, music and, hairstyles that Eno was celebrating as things that enrich our lives, but I’d just argue that science can do that too. Eno talks about scientific developments purely as things that can help him make music, but I think the process of science is so much more. It contributes and advances cultural ideas, helps us think about who we are, and how we can best live together. Plus, it’s fun, and when I studied it, I found it remarkably therapeutic. Who knew planting perfect rows of Arabidopsis seeds and watching them grow could be so fulfilling?

So we ran the science bit of Eno’s experiment here at the British Science Association. This isn’t about saying science is better. It’s that Eno’s point for cultural value being wider than money applies to science aswell as the arts. These quotes show scientists don’t have one view of science, and that it has a wide impact upon our culture, just like the arts do. We think this shows how much fuller our culture would be if we valued arts AND science, rather than setting them against each other.

Some people thought science was a tool for democracy:

Anne Mullen, a nutritional scientist, said ‘Science is a great social leveller – it allows experts not to know all the answers and, in the most open way, let's them discover answers along with the public and with social good in mind.’

John, a retired scientist, said it, ‘Provides prosperity based on real goods not just moving money around.’

For some, it’s about doing and improving things:

Former biologist Kat Arney said, ‘Science gives me hope for the future - that we will cure diseases, enrich our humanity & make the world a better place.’ 

Chemist Suze Kundu said, ‘it makes the impossible possible, and makes lives easier and much more fun.’ We also had a conversation about how crucial science is in cake-making, which I think is of great cultural importance.

Lucy Maddox, a clinical psychologist and researcher, thinks science means we can ‘work out which treatments really help, and surprise ourselves with the answers.’

Chemist, and owner of the best hair in science, Sir Martyn Poliakoff said it, ‘makes the medicines and other chemicals that we need to maintain our quality of life.’

For some scientists, it gives personal fulfilment as well as knowledge

Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell said, ‘It’s incredibly good fun. I love the challenge of solving problems and discovering things no one has seen before.’

Nick Crumpton, a zoologist, said, ‘Science enables folks like me to feel good about getting out of bed to spend our time doing what no humans have ever thought of, nor had the ability, to do before. Ever.’

Shona, a radiotherapist said, ‘Science allows me to save lives doing a job I love, it allows me to keep in contact with my friends and family, it allows me to explore new countries and experience different cultures, it allows me to watch the rugby happening miles away.’

For some people, like quantum physicist Jim Al-Khalili and psychologist Uta Frith, its about understanding our place in the world.
Science allows us to understand ourselves as part of nature and imaginary worlds.
— Uta Frith (@utafrith) September 29, 2015

Jim Al-Khalili: ‘For me, science is the only objective and universal means by which we can seek to understand our world and our place in it.’

Meanwhile for palaeontologist Jon Tennant, it shows just how small our place in the world is…
‘It shows that Earth is not static, but dynamic and ever evolving, and the small part that humanity has really played in all this.’
For some, it’s about giving us power through understanding

Helen Czerski, a physicist, said "Science gives us perspective on the world and our place in it, showing us the consequences of our actions and preventing us from being helpless in a complex world".

For doctor and writer Ben Goldacre and researcher and writer Suzi Gage, its helps us decide where to put our trust and belief.

Ben said, ‘Science gives clear explanations of the methods and results of specific studies, which you can use to decide whether you believe specific theories.’

While Suzi said, ‘It provides us the framework to interrogate the world around us. A critical way of thinking that allows us to test hypotheses and evaluate evidence.’


Finally, Prasanna, who is a scientist, but didn’t leave us any other info, simply said, ‘science gives me freedom.’