UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Will The Geek Inherit the Earth?

23 January 2013

On Monday, UCL Science & Technology Studies held a panel discussion on the question of "Will the geek inherit the earth?" This was prompted by a recent book by Mark Henderson, former Science Editor of the Times and now Head of Communications at the Wellcome Trust.

Panel (L-R Mark Henderson, Lisa Jardine, Jack Stilgoe, James Wilsdon, Geraint Rees)

The Panel (L-R Mark Henderson, Lisa Jardine, Jack Stilgoe, James Wilsdon and Geraint Rees)

The event celebrated the launch of our new MSc programmes, in History and Philosophy of Science and Science, Technology and Society. More information about these can be found here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/prospective/msc/uclmastersdegrees

Mark Henderson Holding the Geek Manifesto

The Geek Manifesto is a call-to-arms for self-identified 'geeks' to get involved with politics and policymaking. We chose it as this year's OneBook, which means we ask all of our students and staff to read and discuss it. Joining Henderson on the panel were Lisa Jardine, UCL's new Professor of Renaissance studies, well-known historian of science, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and much else besides, Geraint Rees, the director of UCL's Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy at Sussex University's Science Policy Research Unit.

The discussion was as wide ranging as the book itself. Geraint Rees talked about how scientists themselves might feel about political engagement. He's interested in his research making a difference in the real world embracing recent calls for 'impact', but he recognises that many scientists are put off by such ideas. Lisa Jardine talked about the political debates in which she's been involved, particularly the recent discussions of Mitochondria replacement. They held a discussion in parliament. Two MPs turned up. And, as Henderson correctly suspected, they were two who had already expressed an interest in the issue. James Wilsdon contextualised things with a broader discussion of the connections between science and politics, drawing on his experience as one-time director of Science Policy for the Royal Society. Students, staff, friends and colleagues in the audience asked about whether 'geek' was a good word to describe such things, how we should mix disciplines, how science should reshape itself for policy-relevance and why science and politics ever got split in the first place. As is often the way, the discussion stopped as it got going, but the buzz continued into the evening's party. 

Panel and Audience

You can catch up with the tweets about the event here (#WillTheGeek) at http://sfy.co/r0Iv