Peter Doherty: Knowledge Wars, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015

Peter Doherty: Knowledge Wars, Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2015


[ Music ]>>Simon Longstaff: My
name is Simon Longstaff. I’m the executive director of
the Ethics Centre and cofounder of the Festival of
Dangerous Ideas. And I’d like to welcome
you all this afternoon for the session on
knowledge wars. To begin, I’d like to
recognise the Gadigal people of the Euroa Nation and pay
my respects to the elders, past and present and to
any indigenous people who are here today. When the, and I should
also mention, just as if you’ve
got a mobile phone, if you could put it
on silent please. And if you’re tweeting,
the hashtag is hash FODI. Now, later after Peter’s spoken,
there will be an opportunity for questions and answers
and you can see microphones on either side there to
be used for that purpose. We should have about 20 minutes
for questions at the end. When we think about
science in this country, some of the great heroes of course are the
Nobel prize winners. And today we are joined by Peter
Doherty, a Nobel prize winner. He shared the prize
in 1996 for medicine for discovering the nature of the cellular immune
defence system. He continues to be involved in
research and divides his time between the University
of Melbourne and St. Jude’s Children’s
Hospital in Memphis. In his fifth book, The Knowledge
Wars, he goes in to bat for evidence-based reality in
relation to debates on issues like childhood vaccination,
global hunger and anthropogenic
climate change. And encourages us
all to be informed and to evaluate the facts. I never thought I’d have to
say this but at a time now which seems to replicate just
the dawn of the Enlightenment when the evolution of science into its modern form prompted a
moral panic throughout Europe. Church leaders and others
were desperately concerned that science would
destroy the moral fabric of the society that they had. In fact, it overturned
years of superstition and it did cause a revolution. But it seemed after
that to settle down, that it would actually
be something which was genuinely useful. And yet, today, in 2015, we
find ourselves in circumstances where science itself is often
considered to be dangerous. So, to consider that
topic to talk about his dangerous idea today, would you please
welcome Peter Doherty. [ Applause ]>>Peter Doherty:
Thank you, Simon. I couldn’t hear what
he was saying. Well, good afternoon. So, this is about,
to some extent, about The Knowledge Wars, which
is a book I’ve just completed and which I’ll be discussing
as I go through this. So, you kind of said a bit of
my introductory remark really. I mean, human beings are clearly
the most dangerous species on earth and perhaps the
most dangerous species in the universe. We don’t know, but I think some of us are suspecting there may
be even more dangerous species out there. And of course science
is a human construct. And though science
does an enormous good, science is also dangerous. Even the very good
science can evoke the law of unintended consequences. Science demands that we remove
the philtres, the horse blinkers of dogma beliefs and prejudice which sometimes masquerade
as common sense. The requirement is that we
have to see the thing itself. Science demands that we
reject any authoritarian or dogmatic view of
how nature operates. And respect only the
authority of data and the ideas that come from that data. That view was correctly
perceived, and Simon said, as dangerous by the religious
and princely authorities who controlled Western
civilisation at the time of the European Dark Ages. And it is equally dangerous
to the infinitely greedy, infinitely self-serving,
infinitely corrupt and morally bankrupt
power elites who are manipulating democratic
government today as they seek to impose what is emerging as ever intrusive corporate
fascist state that’s globalised. Just think. If the authoritarians of
mediaeval times had been able to maintain control and
stop the Renaissance, then the actual world would
actually be infinitely better shape. If we still believe
that the devil or witches caused the
plague rather than bacteria, we would have no global
overpopulation issue. There would be no concern about
anthropogenic climate change, which you couldn’t
measure anyway. And we wouldn’t have
wards full of people with Alzheimer’s disease. That’ll be dead long
before that. But most of us would
likely prefer that the Renaissance
had happened, that science had happened and that we live in
interesting times. I’m not sure that’s true of
some in our cabinet who might like to reverse the Renaissance. Some of the best minds of
the 14th century, I think. To echo Charles Dickens,
it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times. It’s a time of unparalleled
opportunity and a time of massive challenges. When it comes to distinguishing
the good from the bad or the delusional, the
confusion for most of us is with information
based in science. And that confusion is, I
believe, extremely dangerous. That’s what The Knowledge
Wars is about. That’s what my book is about. It’s about trying to clear
view and finding a way through the information mess. The book gives some
historical background. It discusses how science works and how scientists
train and operate. But it’s basically
concerned with process. Understanding the process of
science and what it’s about. And it’s also turned with
providing some information on how each and every one of us,
anyone who can use the Internet or a search engine, might exclude some
very prominent judges but most of us can do it. Can access valid information
about the so-called or sometimes self-styled experts and the culture of
science itself. The Knowledge Wars is a
book for nonscientists. Even for those who
think they hate science. But I think a lot of
people who feel alienated from science are already halfway
to being scientists anyway. I kind of regard
anyone who’s a good cook or a committed gardener as kind of a scientist in
their own right. Maybe some of the
chefs that throw things on television are
more like surgeons than scientists but who knows. So, and I also think
maybe the more literary and arty among us could
think again about the idea of the Renaissance man or the
Renaissance woman of course because we all know the
Shakespeare’s plays were written by a woman. But he wrote poetry. Plays, music and was at the
same time involved in business, politics and was fascinated by the natural philosophy
of his time. Henry VIII was a bit before that and he wasn’t a very good
husband but he kind of set a lot of this in motion, actually. By assigning himself
the head of the church and actually demolishing
the monasteries and removing their
power and authority. And that allowed a
lot of things blossom. Things were also blossoming
on the European continent. In Padua for instance,
a breakaway group of students formed a new
university and it was in Padua that they started to
dissect the human body and once again to
dissect animals. And they started to discover
things like the fact, as William Harvey discovered,
the blood is actually driven around the body by the heart. It doesn’t, as Galen,
the great physician, great Roman physician, believed,
who is a very distinguished guy, that the blood drained
one way to the liver where it was destroyed. Kind of wrong and I often
wonder what people thought when they cut an animal’s
throat and it pumped blood. Where they think that happened? I don’t know. I think people just
weren’t constrained to think in terms of curiosity. Perhaps by the culture
of the time. It’s very intriguing
and maybe philosophers like Simon have had much better
insight into that than I do because it’s certainly something
that’s worth thinking about. Natural philosopher. Natural philosopher was the
early term for scientist. The word scientist wasn’t even
used in the English language until the 19th century. Isaac Newton, for instance, did not describe
himself as a physicist. That word was not in use. He described himself as
a natural philosopher. And that came later. Knowledge is power. This is what really
started it off, at least in the English-speaking
world. It was the thinking
of Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon was Lord
High Chancellor of England under James I of England,
James VI of Scotland. We lived in Scotland for a
while and you have to say that. And Bacon formalised the basic
idea that drives modern science. He founded the inductive
approach, mandating that if we are to
understand the natural world, we have to look at
the thing itself. His statement was
actually [speaking in Latin], knowledge is power. And he was talking about
specialist knowledge and knowledge about
the natural world. He knew all about power. He was Lord High Chancellor
of England, for heaven sake. And he knew all about education
and all the rest of it. Education does not
necessarily confer power, as anyone who is a
schoolteacher knows. But knowledge, the certain types
of knowledge do confer power. And that led to his thinking and
the effect it had on the culture in England at that time
or in London particularly, led to the founding of the
Royal Society of London in 1662. From 1662, it was
chartered by King Charles II. The little button I’m wearing is
the badge of The Royal Society. Early members were
people like Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle. These are all people we ought
to identify now as scientists. It was also people like
Christopher Wren, the architect, and Samuel Peets, the diarist. So, it was people who basically
had an interest and a curiosity. And that was the characteristic
of the Renaissance man. It was an interest in
everything including the science of the natural world. And that we’ve tended to lose. We think of the Renaissance man
as sort of a know it all type, maybe a bit into poetry and so
forth but really not someone who engages seriously
with science. Later philosophers,
particularly Karl Popper, pointed out that scientists only
fool themselves if they’re set out to prove something. What they are indeed doing is
to disprove a null hypothesis that two things are
not different. Yeah, null hypothesis is
about as weird as it gets in The Knowledge Wars. Otherwise, the books
in plain English, but you have to think
about that. The rules of science. We start with a testable
idea or hypothesis. Sometimes that hypothesis
is not right. We make systematic measurements,
analyse the results and then pull the findings and
conclusions together to give and to synthesise a
carefully documented and discussed story
that is published. After approval by at
least two informed peers for everyone to read. Simon is a bit bothered by the
fact that often when we look at the data, we change
our hypothesis. The actual way a
scientific paper, as Peter Meadowlark pointed out, another medicine
Nobel prize winner who wrote beautifully,
he’s actually a fake. But it’s about the data. Everything is about the data. In science, and the analysis,
everything is about the data. Sometimes of course
you’ve got it totally wrong and you find something
blindingly new. And that’s a paradigm
shifting discovery. And that’s for instance how I
came to win the Nobel prize. We were just lucky enough
to stumble on something that was blindingly new
and we were lucky enough to make some good
guesses about it. I wrote about in my book,
The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize,
the first book that I wrote. And the publishers insisted I
have a list of things at the end on how to win the Nobel prize. And so I have, you know,
bullet point number 8, discover something
really big [laughter]. The first scientific journal,
The Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society,
was published in 1665. It’s now digitised. It’s open access and apart
from the papers that have gone in over the last year,
it still publishing. Published as a review
journal now. Anyone can read that journal. Anyone of you who
can look on the web and can search can read The
Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society. And it’s quite illuminating
when you go back and read it. Actually, I’ve just been going
back to read some of the papers, the early, the initial
report by Leuwenhoek of him seeing animalcules,
or microorganisms down his little microscopes. And he was actually
seeing things that people haven’t
really credited him with. And he describes them but I’m
not sure you’d recognise them. And that often happens
in science. Something gets described that
you don’t really recognise it until you get a better
understanding. It is the limitations
of the human mind and where we go with it. Massive advances, and
we’ve seen in science over the last three centuries. Just, didn’t just apprend
on that process of looking and analysing for data. They also depended on a
number of other things. Think about it. There would be no modern
science without the invention of the printing press. There would’ve been no
Renaissance, I think, without the invention
of the printing press. But you can’t imagine that scientific papers
could be published by monks writing them
up in scriptoria. That’s just not possible. You had to have printing. Then you also needed a change
in culture that didn’t come with the rest Renaissance. The development of an
entrepreneurial culture. There was already an
entrepreneurial culture in the sense that people like Sir Walter Raleigh
were going off and robbing Spanish
treasure ships and all that sort of thing. But you had to make that a more
formal and correct process. And so what you needed were
the availability of credit. You needed banks and
banks started to emerge. You need insurance. You have Lloyd’s of London. You needed lady, you
need to patent offices. Particularly you needed
honest accountancy. There’s a very nice book written by a lady whose name
I’m blocking on who says that really it’s accounts
who founded the modern world, and she may be right, though
it’s a horrible thought. And you needed an
appropriate body of commercial law
and regulation. So, all those things
went forward together. It wasn’t just science itself. And of course signs operates
with its sisters, engineering and technological development. So, it’s not just the
discovery science. You have to translate it to
actually achieve something. Also perceived as an
essential role for government after the developments
like radar that had such a big influence
in the second World War and of course the
emergence of nuclear bombs. Public funding has
driven and continues to drive the great
culture of discovery. You cannot really
expect the private sector to drive public discovery
science. It’s too risky for them. There’s not a sure
enough return. We look to the private
sector for translation. We look to industry
and entrepreneurs. Some government funds as well. Translation: A lot of
governments fall in love with the idea of translation. They have the idea you don’t
really need to do the science. You can just translate
the science. Well, it’s kind of news. If you don’t own the
science in the first place, you’re not going
to be the person who translates it for a start. And the other thing is if you
don’t do really good science, then quite frankly, you’re going
to be trying to translate crap. And a lot of that happened,
particularly in the early days of gene therapy and
some of it killed people and it set science back
quite a bit for a while. Science has prospered
and so have we but it’s a great success, science has become increasingly
specialised and more and more inaccessible to
most members of society. Nobody now can say as Francis
Bacon did way back then, he claimed all knowledge
as his province. That’s just not possible. You cannot claim that. Given the problems facing us
and the choices we’re required to make, this basic rejection of
or ignorance of science by many in the community is
frankly very dangerous. In such challenging times, democracy can neither
flourish nor function to promote the general
good if the great majority of our political leaders and the
voting public are scientifically illiterate and readily
manipulated by delusional and dishonest politicians
and media. Barry Jones tells a
story that when he was in Parliament raising an
issue with a colleague that a particular approach
would violate the second law of thermodynamics, the
response was no problem. We’ll repeal it. Interfacing intelligently with
science does not mean we input from the broader community. You can interface
intelligently without science without knowing a lot of
obscure jargon or being familiar with the details behind
the conclusions reached by scientists. We don’t need to understand, we need to understand really
the underlying culture. We don’t need to state
the laws and so forth in understanding
science and how it works. So, The Knowledge Wars has
no big scientific words. No confusing abbreviations, and
I’m not asking you to grapple with the laws of
thermodynamics or anything else. I know I make my personal
views on issues like the value of biomedical research
or the danger posed by anthropogenic climate change. I’m not trying tell
you what to think. The whole purpose of the
book is to give a warts and all view of science. Sometimes scientists come
across as holier than thou and that’s self-defeating. And to look at the good,
the bad and the ugly. Scientists are not the round
heads of the 21st century. We’re just people, we’re
artisans, actually. We’re part are intellectuals,
part artisans. We look at things and we
try to understand them. So, the section of the book
is on the good, the bad and the ugly and the basic
motivation behind a lot of it is to give you some insights
into how it works. And also to suggest how
you might actually look for yourself. But that’s a bit technical. I’m sorry, put that
in some appendices at the back of the book. And the titles of those
or something like checking out of scientists, reading
the science literature, because now a lot of the science
literature is open access after year of publication or
open access from the outset. Anyone can go to and read it. Reading the scientific
literature, what you make of the scientific paper if
you’ve never looked at one. How do understand it and
the way that it’s written in its particular stylized form. Then also it has a discussion
of economics of publishing and a discussion of peer-review. Sometimes it puts forward as though something that’s
been peer-reviewed is now sort of dogmatic fact. It’s not. All peer-review says
is that people have looked at a submitted research paper. They’ve looked at the data. They’ve looked at
the interpretation. They’ve looked at the arguments. They think it’s interesting. They think that the
conclusions are valid from the data that is presented. And they think it
should be out there for other people to scrutinise. That’s what peer-review
was bout. It’s not some sort of saying
that this is set in stone. It also, you know, journals are
quite happy to publish people who are sceptics if
they’re serious scientists. The top journals,
like Nature and stuff, if someone is sceptical
about a particular position, they can argue that well and
they can justify it well, they’re really keen
to publish it because controversy is
interesting in itself. We all like a good argument. Modern science is enormous in
its extent and no one wonders, no matter who they are, can
be right across any field. So, that’s why, for example,
thousands of scientists work in areas as diverse as
atmospheric physics, glaciology, marine biology,
dendrochronology, that’s tree ring dating. Contribute to the
quinquennial APCC reports. And that’s why, of course, and the thing you seen those
reports is they will change from report to report, you
will see different emphases as the results that
came in maybe with better instrumentation,
better systems and so forth. As interpretations change,
you’ll see modification in the way they write
these things up. So, The Knowledge Wars is
written from the point of view of an insider, me, in
the medical sciences. And the point of view of an
outsider in climate science. I’m no better informed
about climate science than anyone who’s got some
sort of general understanding of science and I could
not, for instance, really assess whether the
enormous meteorological data sets that are being
accessed and analysed by these people are
correctly interpreted. So, in this textbook,
I break back and forth between those two
views, the insider view and the outsider view. And use examples from
biomedicine and climate science and there’s interesting
parallels. There’s not much documentation
in the book, very few references as my basic idea is how
and where you might look. You’ve also got to realise
that science works by trust. We sometimes accuse that
science is the new religion. That’s ridiculous. Religion, religious
belief is held by faith and as Thomas Aquinas says,
Faith is that from which you, you hold a view by faith
when there is no evidence. So, that is the exact
opposite of science. We don’t hold views by faith. So, science actually works
by trust and confidence. We have trust and
we have confidence that people doing the science
are playing by the rules. And that’s why when
someone fakes in science, it’s such a betrayal
because they’ve broken with that understanding. Science also works
by reputation. That’s not true for
some areas of science. It’s not true for defence
science, for instance, where it’s conducted
behind a wall of secrecy. It’s not true for
the development of a scientific product or
a science-based product, say in a drug company. You’ve got a whole lot of very
serious science that goes ahead to take something forward
through development to the stage where you can get
a project, product. Now, at least when that process
is going forward, that’s likely to be in confidence to
the particular company. But the type of discovery
science that’s funded through the public
sector is all out there and there are no faceless
people in science. Because we live by
our reputations. We live by our names. So, all you need to know
to check out a science, scientist is to need to
know where to go to look. But what you need to know is
the name, where they’re working, what their affiliation is
and what they’re publishing and where they’re publishing it. And you can look all that up. If it’s in the medical sciences, you go to the open
access PubMed database. If it’s in anything else,
you can go to Google Scholar. The book also writes about
fraud, error and criminality. Scientists who accept public
funding and commit fraud can and do go to gaol in
the United States. Scientists who have, are
charged with responsibility to give a warning about
some serious danger can and do go to gaol. You may be aware of the story
of the Italian earthquake six who did not, it was perceived for a time did not
adequately warn people about the 2009 L’Aquila
earthquake where 308 people died. They were sentenced to
six years in prison. Now, that was overturned but
it sets a precedent and it says that say, if the guys on the IBCC don’t provide
adequate warning, they could, in the future, be prosecuted. They have to tell
it as they see it. Fraudsters are often outed by bright young altruistic
trainees in the lab. The real authority of
science is in the data. It’s not in the end
with the lab head and if young scientists
think or find that their lab head is
faking, they out it. And that’s happened in
a number of instances. It’s happened in biomedical
science and it’s happened in sociology where all
of the fraud happens. Again, in medical science
[laughter], I didn’t mean to insult the sociologists. There’s a major case. It’s in the book,
there’s a major case in the Netherlands for instance. It’s quite an extraordinary
case. Also we’ve had instances
of criminality. For instance, the Tuskegee
experiment where for 20 or 30 years, men
who were infected with syphilis were given
free medical treatment and all the rest of it
but they were allowed to infect their partners
and their children. And when penicillin became
available, they weren’t allowed to get the penicillin though
it could have cured them. And their children
and their wives. And when that was outed,
it caused enormous outrage in the 1960s the story came out. There’s another related story. But the result of that was
that everything changed and now we have all these
informed consent rules. We have institutional
review committees who scrutinise any human
or animal experimentation and all the rest of it. Error is always possible, of
course, and that does happen and that’s why you
do get corrections. Especially in the medical
sciences at the moment where we are using a
lot of instrumentation. We’re not particularly
familiar with and we are getting into sort of modelling
approaches that the client sciences
use for things like genomics and protenomics. Unless we’re working with really
competent people in that area, we’ve seen a number of instances
where people are misinterpreted. I think the likelihood of fraud in mainstream climate
science is almost 0. These are really big groups. The numbers are public, both the
raw numbers and smooth numbers, which is what these
guys always do. And also they’re very
big groups with a lot of very bright young people. So, my view, conspiracy in
science is almost impossible. And a lot of the
people who accuse people of conspiracy I think
you can also look them up and take a good hard look
at them and you may find that money is at the foot of
it somewhere along the line. Also with science a lot of the, say climate change deniers refer
back to a lot of old papers. With science, an old paper
is just a step in a process. If the work in the
paper is good, it becomes incorporated
in the science. So, you’re not referring
back to the old paper. You’re often referring to the
newer science that’s been done. And if the work in the
paper is irrelevant or bad, it’s just like old soldiers. It just fades away and dies and
you hear nothing more about it. And that’s the way works. Talking about scepticism
and denial among scientists. It’s interesting to draw
parallels with the Warren and Marshall situation. The sceptics will
often say Well, the mainstream science
is sometimes wrong. Look at Warren and
Marshall’s discovery that bacteria cause stomach
ulcers and stomach cancer. In actual fact, that whole thing
was worked through in 10 years and even at the beginning,
the pharmacology company that was massively threatened
financially by this discovery because it meant they couldn’t
sell the drug, the antacids and all the stuff
they were selling, the pharmacology company
actually funded some of the scientists. And of course all good
scientists are sceptics. And if you’re looking
at a scientist sceptic, you can tell whether they’re
a sceptic or a denier. Because a real scientist
who is sceptical about something will continue to
engage with the science and just like the real scientists, they will adjust their
objection or conclusions. Their perception will change. It will never be rigid. If you see someone who when
they encounter new data, all they’re trying to do is
find out, state why it’s wrong and find an exception
somewhere and cherry pick that. You know they’re
basically in denial. We also have to deal in
the broader community with an intensely human
practice of deliberate ignorance and invented narrative. We all do this. We all do it to some extent to
protect ourselves from having to engage with every
horrible reality. And of course when that becomes
a way of dealing with science, it becomes totally toxic. And also when we’re
concerned with public denial of serious science, we’re faced
with two kind of broad things. One is the denial for
instance of the effect of greenhouse gases
by vested interests in the fossil fuel industries. We’re all kind of
familiar with that. We’ve seen the sort
of green washing ads from the good oil companies
on TV and all the rest of it. And it’s very clear
that they’re just trying to discredit the idea that
dumping endless amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere
is dangerous. But denial is not
restricted to that. There’s also a kind of
denial is shared belief. And a lot of these
big organisations that are very well motivated
actually also have almost a religious component to them. So, you can’t even have a
discussion of the possible value of GM approaches for
improving food production and nutritional value
or preventing disease in food-producing species. It’s very hard to have a
discussion in this country at the moment though it’s
getting a bit easier, on the possible value
of nuclear power. And maybe that’s not the
solution for us but it’s hard to see how some of the northern
hemisphere would get away without it. So, The Knowledge Wars. Basically the blurb on the back of the book says there
is something here to offend almost everyone. I think that’s probably true. A few dangerous ideas. Laws of nature are
inexorable and we have little if anything, any control. Human beings are
constructs of nature. It’s not the other way around. The massive global
experiment of continuing to drive the inexorable
increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere while
simultaneously acidifying the oceans is, when dealing with
a group size of one, the earth and all its creatures living
on it, unacceptable, dangerous and outright criminal. We would never get an
experiment like that through our medical
institutional experimentation review board. A modern democracy cannot
flourish if the majority of politicians and
the voting public are scientifically illiterate. Conspiracies are
pretty much impossible in mainstream science. The players, especially
the junior players, will not stand for it. For those who cry conspiracy,
take a hard look at them. Even as to agree to disagree, issues in science can
only really be sorted out within the informed
community. Though informed innovative
thinkers who come in from outside and we’re seeing
a lot of that at the moment, because with online type
mechanisms, you can get people who are basically
interested in gaming. Or people who come in from
completely different fields making really serious
comment on, say, the way the climate science
data set is handled or the way that protein structures
are assembled. And so I think we’re going
to see a lot of this sort of science on the
web, if you like. Where people who are, you know,
completely unknown to the people who put the idea up will
actually make some tangential contributions and
we’ve seen that happen with protein structure. And people who are actually in
the gaming finding themselves as authors on scientific papers about how proteins
are put together. Sometimes with care and
appropriate protections, we have to embrace the
lesser of two evils and that is maybe
what we’re talking about when we’re talking
about nuclear power. Default, denial. I recently encountered
the argument that denial is actually the
default position for humans. The point that was made
is we are all conscious, we are the only species that
is conscious of our own deaths. Other species show empathy when
a relative dies, like elephants and stuff, but they’re
not conscious that they’re going to die. But because we’re
conscious of our own deaths, we are in denial
much of the time. And denial allows
us to do things. It allows us to be adventurous. It allows us to be courageous. It allows us to sail beyond
the horizon, to take risks. It allows us to be inventive and to put aside what
seems to be the truth. So, denial is very important. The problem is when
we get into denial about something that’s really
happening and it’s dangerous. And that’s one of the challenges
facing us is to get away from denial when
there is a real threat that can’t just be blown away. I think first-world nations
abandoned their commitment to publicly funded discovery
science, public education, and exportation science by
a skilled workforce will end up as a diminished
vassal state that are held in contempt by their neighbours. Not referring to any
particular country. Disruptive technologies
that operate ultimately to our benefit are
neither predictable nor at least initially
necessarily recognised. We cannot rely on
technology getting us out of every situation. While major technological
innovation like nuclear fusion for electricity generation
as possible, that may not eventually work. We also need to change
the ways we do things and basically what we value. And it’s a question
of values that I think that is tremendously important. We need to think about
what we really value and what we really want
and how is that going to work in the long-term. I think personally I’m sure I’ll
hear this from Paul Krugman. Neocon no regulation,
no tax markets, economics has no place
for the environment. For acting to limit
greenhouse gases emissions or in that matter in people
other than as units of production and consumption. A world where everything
is commodified is hideous, dangerous and ultimately
unsustainable for life. We have to move on from
this toxic practices. That doesn’t admit, mean that we
have to abandon entrepreneurism and innovation of capitalism. But it does mean that we must
have appropriate national and international regulation
and taxing mechanisms. Science and technology
can do a lot but we will not achieve
a sustainable future without changing what we value. We must redirect our priorities
to provide decent lives and ensure a sustainable future,
both for the global human family and for the magnitude
diversity of life. We need appropriate globally
enforcible criminal statutes to discourage and if
necessary to restrain those who seek generally for
reasons of personal power or of self-serving greed to
subvert the human future. We need a third Industrial
Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution. There’s no going back to
some imagined Elysian pass. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Simon Longstaff:
Well, I’ll remind people. If you like it ask a
question, you might line up and there are microphones
on either side and they’ll be illuminated. Before we do that, I
just want to pick up from where you started
and where you ended. So, we both agree, I think
everybody knows, that the dawn of modern science,
there really was a war. People had their books banned. They were burned. They were imprisoned and
they were banished simply for the inquiries they made. Eventually they are overcome
now and you’ve just described, I think, a world,
if I paraphrase it, where you see science on
the side of humanity being up against foes that may not be
banning, burning and banishing. But are nonetheless hell-bent on the destructive
course of action. So, that’s the war,
is it, that you see between science today, between–>>Peter Doherty: That’s
fundamentally, yeah, I discuss it in the book but if
you go back to the Renaissance, the early days, things
were starting to happen. You’ve got the case
of William Tyndale, the man who translated
the Bible. And he translated it
I think from Hebrew and other texts, I
think Latin maybe. Of course he translated it so that ordinary human
beings could read it.>>Simon Longstaff:
Into English.>>Peter Doherty: Into English. And what happened to Tyndale? In the end, they caught up
with him and they burned them. But in the end analysis,
Tyndale won out because much this
translation is actually what’s in the St. James,
the King James Bible. So, it’s that beautiful
language of the King James Bible which so formulated our society. I mean, there’s no doubt, I
think, that if you took a look at these Western societies, the Bible has been the most
single influential book. Because it codified a lot
of practices and behaviours and all the rest of
it and discussed it. So, Tyndale in the end won out
though it was pretty agonising. So, the equivalent of that
is today is you remove research funding. The first thing the present
government did when it came in was to cut funding
for the Bureau of Meteorology, CSRO, NSTO. I think the Institute of
Marine Science, nearly anything that does, has anything
to do climate science. The ARC, it cut funding. Okay? So, that’s
one thing you do. The other thing is you
vilify the scientists. And you do that through media. It’s hard to know whether
you’ve got a compliant media or in this country where
you’ve got media controlling a compliant government. I’m not mentioning any names.>>Simon Longstaff: Okay. Well, let’s start over here. Microphone one, you
name, please. If you can just say your
name, ask your question and we’ll go from there.>>Hi. My name is Richard
and thank you very much. Fantastic insights. One slightly flippant question
I guess, how do we know that elephants aren’t
conscious of their mortality? And second slightly
more serious question, would humans be less dangerous
if they weren’t conscious of their own mortality?>>Peter Doherty: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. So, that’s why say, I have
to have trust and confidence to those that told it to me. It was a very good scientist
because I haven’t looked it up. So, that’s an example
of trusting.>>You know, the credibility of your whole book
has just been shot.>>Peter Doherty: No,no. I can’t know, I can only know
a very limited amount of stuff, firstly because, you know, I’m
a fairly specialised scientist and secondly because
I’m almost 75 years old and my mind is going quickly. Some of it’s talking about
Bernard, the guy from the, crikey, he was talking about
the surveillance state.>>Bernard Keen.>>Peter Doherty: Bernard Keen. At the thing I was
at last night. And he was saying how they can
track exactly where you are from your cell phone and your
FitBit, your computer, your iPad and all the rest of it. And he’s saying how
terrible this is. And I said, you know, it’s
got one good feature of it. If I could just hit a button
and say now where the hell am I. And then maybe in 5 or 10
years I can hit a button say who the hell am I. No, that’s the issue in
trust and confidence. I talk about on trust and I
haven’t really looked it up and I deliberately
didn’t because I wanted that question, thank you.>>Simon Longstaff:
But we all do. None of us have seen the
dark side of the moon. I haven’t actually
seen a blue whale. But there is a lot of trust and
confidence in the process to say that there is another side
and there are blue whales. On that slightly esoteric
note, microphone two.>>Thanks Peter. My name’s Robin. Thank you for the presentation. I really enjoyed it. I’m a scientist by
training and it seems to me that we’re actually not very
good at marketing ourselves. And when we train as scientists, we learn a systematic
approach to solving problems. We learn how to communicate
with our peers. But we don’t how to
learn how to communicate with the general public. So, I’m wondering
whether we need to be sort of taking a bit more ownership about how we communicate
our messages to get them out there better and conversely
whether we should be thinking more broadly. We have, you know, religion
education for people. Should we be encouraging a more
critical appraisal for people who aren’t studying
the science as well?>>Peter Doherty: I don’t
know what’s taught in schools. I’m not a schoolteacher. I think we need, there are
two sorts of science education when you’re in schools. You need the education for
the really bright young kids who are trying, who are
just excited by ideas. And I see, we see people coming
into the labs with their PhDs and they say what
really started you off? And she said well, I
went to the Holy Mother of God’s Catholic High School. We had a fantastic
science teacher. I’m just in love with chemistry. And, you know, you see
that and that maybe you. Well, it might be me
except I started being a vet which is a bit different. But, so, there’s that
science education but I think that will only be really a
relatively small proportion of people. We really need a much
broader scientific education about process, about
relevant risk. I think a lot of it can
be done through example and discussing the example of
probability over, you know, there is some of this. Discussing what happens if you
leave your kid in a dark car. That sort of thing. So, we need a lot,
I think examples. And I think it’s sort of
practical things to get sort of embedded in people’s
minds and give them an idea about this relative risk thing. Because so much of
the media depends on denying this relative
risk idea. I mean, the antivaccine is all
about denying relative risk and then a lot of scientists
can take a wrong approach. They say well, vaccinations
are completely safe. No medical procedure
is completely safe. Everything is relative risk. But, you know, 60 minutes
couldn’t air if it didn’t, if it ignored relative risk.>>Simon Longstaff: Okay. Anyone else, up here? Please come to microphone
when you’re able.>>Hi.>>Peter Doherty: Hi.>>How are you?>>Peter Doherty: This
is your scene, not mine.>>It’s just great
to hear your talk. I just have a question,
whether you would share with us whether you have
a view on the debate on the possible existence of a
Lyme-like disease in Australia?>>Peter Doherty:
A Lyme disease?>>Yeah.>>Peter Doherty: I
really don’t know. I mean, Lyme disease is a
disease in North America. It’s caused by, someone
in the audience, a Borrelia tickborne I think? It’s maintained in some
sort of mice and deer. And a lot of people
suffer from it in the Northeast United States. And people here think
they have it and the doctors tell
him they haven’t but I really don’t have any
more insight to it than that. I mean, there’s a lot of,
it should be diagnosable. I mean, it’s a real
disease with a real cause. There are a lot of
diseases out there that are kind of difficult. I mean, you don’t know
how much they’re real, how much they’re psychosomatic. For instance, chronic fatigue
syndrome I think initially more and more people think
there’s something there but they don’t know
really what it is. There’s number of
different things. When meal syndrome,
you know, so basically, but I don’t on the
answer about Lyme.>>Okay.>>Thank you.>>Simon Longstaff:
Anyone from microphone two? If not, we’ll stay over here. Somebody here for
microphone one? Yes. Microphone one, if you’d
like to come forward please.>>James Bevins is my name. Now, on the basis that
economics is the science of how to distribute things,
why is economics used as, like an excuse for not spending
money to explore other sciences? Like why it’s used,
like, as a way to sort of have a war a war
against, like, exploring other knowledge
sources?>>Peter Doherty:
Well, you know, economics is always described
as the dismal science. It’s, you know, there is a
Nobel prize in economics. It actually wasn’t set
up by Alfred Nobel. It’s called the Swedish Banks
Prize for economic sciences in the name of Alfred Nobel. The Swedish banks bought their
way into the Nobel prizes in the 1960s which was good, because then the Nobel prize
became worth a lot more money and nobody’s objecting to that. But there’s still a lot of
feeling in the Nobel foundation that it’s not a good
idea and that it’s, it sanctioned Milton
Friedman as. You know, when I first
read Milton Friedman ideas about economics, I thought if
we applied that to Australia, we’ll end up with a country that at best will be
a mine and a farm. Well [laughter]. There’s a very good
book, actually. And it’s a book, well,
it’s good because it agrees with my prejudices, right? So that’s good book. It’s a book called
Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have
Damaged America and the World. And it’s by a man
called Jeff Madrick. It was written on economics in
the New York Times and it’s also from Harper’s, I think. And I think it’s a
very compelling book. He points out that Friedman’s
ideas were essentially a philosophical position. Friedman had absolutely no data. He just basically came
forward with his ideas. And they’re wonderful ideas and
the neocon economics is great. It, because for certain people. Paul Krugman, who’s
speaking this afternoon–>>Tonight.>>Peter Doherty: This
evening, will tell you that this is a zombie idea. It’s undead. It keeps getting killed. There’s never any evidence
for it but it never goes away. Why doesn’t it go away? Well, it doesn’t go away because
it serves the interests of those who were already enormously
wealthy and powerful. And these people are infinitely
greedy, morally bereft and infinitely corrupt. And that’s what I think
of neocon economics. And I think if you
see something, and that’s another thing. If you see something that’s
badged as an institute. And if the Institute
doesn’t tell you where its funding comes from,
if it’s talking about science but it doesn’t employ any
scientists, look very closely at its state of philosophy. And basically if
it’s libertarian, it’s just a lot of crap. It’s self-serving crap.>>I wonder whether
science became such a powerful cultural symbol, that things like
economics actually aspired to be given the significance
of a science without actually having a
scientific method at its heart.>>Yeah, no, I mean–>>Anything that wants the
legitimate itself says I am a science.>>Peter Doherty: Well,
that’s part of the problem. Because, so economics, I mean, some economics is
very scientific. In kind of retrospect
and there’s a lot of very interesting
economic variety.>>Behavioural economy.>>Peter Doherty: I
mean historically, economics in the
historical sense where actually they went back
and where people have gone back and looked at the history
of the transactions that happened during
the slave era. People sort of hid
what they were doing that they didn’t handle, hide their account
books and so forth. So, that sort of economics and history is really
interesting actually and it’s pretty valid. And it’s probably a lot more
valid than other history. But basically, I mean, there
are some things you can do with economics and
some things you can’t. And if people are
honest about it, they’ll pretty much
state that to you. The same thing has happened
with religion, though. I mean the basic issue
with creationism is of religious people
are trying to say well, we have real science in this. Well, there’s no science. It’s belief. And, you know, the
creationist for instance who say that the world is 5000 years
old, confuse the beginnings of the written word with
the beginnings of the world. And, but, so if they didn’t
argue their case in the sense of science but simply said
this is what we believe and take it or leave it, fine.>>Simon Longstaff:
Is there anybody else who wants ask a question
on another microphone?>>Peter Doherty: I think also–>>Simon Longstaff:
If you’ll come down.>>Peter Doherty: Well,
I just wanted to–>>Simon Longstaff:
Said he wanted to say further on that point.>>Peter Doherty: Well,
I think also on the point that was raised before about
scientists communicating. Well, some of us are better
communicators than others. I think particularly
with respect to high schools and
primary schools. It’s really good to get
students, bright young students and postdocs and so forth
out into the schools. Not old fosters like me. I’m, you know, I’m older
than their grandparents. And so we don’t want them, but
we want bright young people who can talk about
how exciting it is and how much fun they’re
having and all the rest of it. But the other issue
though is you have to think of the nature of
the media itself. We were talking last night in
a similar, in a different sort of format but basically
there are about four science journalists
employed in the whole of destroy and newspaper media. About four. And I don’t think
they’re all full time. So.>>Whereas there’s
one journalist for every three AFL players.>>Peter Doherty: You’ve got
hundreds of sports journalists. I mean, this first,
when I first, after I won the Nobel Prize and
I’m suddenly on the public stage because I’m the Australian
of the Year. And sort of travelling
around and talking to broader groups because, you
know, it’s well known in science but totally not known. Now I’m really quite famous. You know, having a Nobel prize
gives you about the level of fame as a minor figure
in a coffee commercial that hasn’t run for three years. But, you know, trying, going
to Adelaide on the history, on the anniversary of
Howard Florey, you know, the guy who got penicillin
online and save enormous numbers of lives in D-Day with his
friend Ernst Chain and so forth. So, that was the anniversary,
he was born in Adelaide. Educated in Adelaide, went
to university in Adelaide. I talked on public radio
about Howard Florey. A lot of people had
never heard of him and thought it was
very interesting. The crows were winning and I
was trying to explain immunology to a football reporter on
the Adelaide Advertiser. Okay? Well, you know, we were
discussing whether not the Brisbane [inaudible] are worse than the Adelaide Advertiser,
I don’t think it is. I think the Advertiser is worse. But, you know, it’s impossible. So, if you’ve got, if
your media are illiterate, then the other thing of course
is that a lot of science when it actually does
get into the paper, the scientist thinks newspapers,
they’re about communicating. Well, maybe some of them are. Maybe The New York Times. I think maybe and
elements of Fairfax does. But a lot of the industry
is about selling papers.>>Simon Longstaff: Do
you think scientists have to become more political, not
just better communicating? But if you’re talking about
a world where funding is cut and there tends to be a slightly
meek response that comes from scientific community
when they’re being–>>Peter Doherty:
Well it’s a bit like the response we’re
seeing from the ABC. They’re intimidated
because they’re totally at the mercy of these
characters. But I think what we need is many
more people in political life who have a sense of science. And we need a much greater sense
of science and the importance of science in the
broader community. Because in the end analysis,
I mean, John Allen told me, if you really want to get
more funding for science and so forth, get the
voters to care about it. And when you ask the voters,
actually, what they care about, then you know how responsive
their politicians are to the voters. Look at the opinion polls. Look at who they’d like to have
at heading the Liberal party. Look at who they’d like to head,
have head of the Labour Party. But we have to find some way of putting more pressure
on these people. Also, the quality of our
politicians is disastrous. I mean, most of them– [ Applause ] Most of them have done nothing but politics for
their whole life. They’ve either been in
the trade union movement or they’ve been in
political offices. They’ve never done anything
and that prescribes, I mean, one of them is a
failed journalist. But they’re, you know, most
of them have done nothing.>>Simon Longstaff: I want to
take you back to Francis Bacon. Because I wonder whether or not he perhaps is
somewhat responsible for what you just described
the promises as being. As you know, forget the, I
always remember the second part of the title of his
great work where he tried to capture all knowledge. But the subtext was the
instoration of man over nature. And there was this
sense that Bacon had that if only we could
know everything, we could control everything. That the uncertainties in
life could be eliminated. Now that way of thinking
about controlling the world by understanding and managing
it is partly the world of Friedman himself.>>Peter Doherty:
Well, we all do this. I mean, it’s also in the
Christian doctrine that, you know, dominion over nature. We’ve got dominion over nature.>>Simon Longstaff: This is where science takes
up that notion.>>Peter Doherty: Yes, I know. And it’s my segue
back all along. I mean, you know, if you
look at the early part of the 20th century, you look, if you go into a
bookstore sometimes, you’ll find these old
yellowed hardbacks called Everyman’s Library. So, people were out there
though, uneducated people. They let’s call it 12 or 15 or
something and they’re trying to educate themselves. They were going to
mechanics institutes. They were picking up the
classics in Everyman’s Library and they were reading
through them and trying to get a more sophisticated
view. And then of course we thought,
with modern communications and television and radio and television certainly
radio is much better mechanism for communicating often. But that we’d all become
more educated and more aware. Well, hello, I mean, whatever
you watching television, I mean, I don’t know. Cooking programmes, do people
watch survivor programmes? I mean, there’s so much. You know, the whole society
looks to be dumbing down. And of course social media
has enormous potential for getting a lot
of things across. And if that’s what I
would say that anyone in the audience who’s
into social media. If you’re in the science lab
and you’ve got really good video of something, put
it up on YouTube. You know, put things up because
now we can all communicate globally, actually,
if we hit it right. You know, Randy Dubose, the
microbiologist who is famous for saying think
globally, act locally. Actually though, with
modern communication, we can all act globally. The problem is of course is
there’s as much disinformation as there is information. And there’s a lot of people
who are just totally absorbed with themselves in the space.>>Simon Longstaff: You
probably just have to learn how to align science
with cat videos. And you’d be absolutely–>>Peter Doherty: We could,
but the sort of cat video with electrodes sticking
out of its head.>>Simon Longstaff: Maybe
that won’t go down so well.>>Peter Doherty: Might
not work too well.>>Simon Longstaff: Do you think
the other thing the science, well, it might be on when is
potentially the losing side at the moment of this
political contest, that it might be the people
were a bit afraid of it too? I mean, you think about the
big science stories that come through as the things to do with
genetically modified organisms and kind of the Monsanto issue. Nuclear power, and other things. Are people stepping back
from it because they assume that it may also be the
author of our destruction, an existential threat?>>Peter Doherty: Yeah,
and I think that’s one of the issues obviously. And basically that’s what I want
people to be able to take a bit of a look at the science and
the scientists themselves. I don’t think science, we’ve
got a lot of problems facing us. Relying, in fact it’s
very interesting. The people who were
sort of heavily into the climate change denial. I suspect tell themselves
basically we’ll solve this through technology. So, I talked about this one
sort of thing in Melbourne, a big dinner with a
lot of people there. And I took out well, you
know, we can’t rely on science to solve anything
and I said just look at this is an instance. Our engineering and our science
has given us this extraordinary thing like the A380 Airbus. You know, this massive
thing that can take off, fly through the world. The pilots don’t even
have to do anything. They just sit back. But it burns fossil fuels. And how are we going
to get beyond that? And so, you know, we hit limits. Now, I’m not saying that
those limits can’t be overcome and we won’t find other
ways of doing things. That’s one of the mistakes
all scientists make. You say it’s all been
done and we did it and nothing is going
to happen now. And but that’s ridiculous. But basically I don’t
think we can rely on science to solve everything. Which means that
change in attitudes and it means a change in values. And it means also though
that we have to use science as best we can to solve issues. Now, case in point is influenza. The influenza A virus is
looking more and more dangerous. The main pandemic virus is
what we work with influenza. And we’re getting more and more
situations where we’re seeing in Asia where with birds
and people are together in these live markets. Viruses that are
relatively innocuous in the birds causing
lethal disease in humans. And there in apparent infections in live bird markets
for instance. Now, people have
been trying vaccines. It doesn’t work. I mean, the vaccines
aren’t good enough. It’s just too big. The only way you can
really deal with it is to kill all the birds. But if the birds aren’t sick,
you can’t really do that and it requires a lot
of diagnostic power and all the rest of it. So, one way to do it, we know
what the genetic defect is in the chicken that makes it
so susceptible to influenza. We could actually
engineer the birds to be much more
disease-resistant and engineering the birds, we
would save enormous losses due to slaughter of poultry flocks. And we would also
diminish the possibility of a very serious
influenza pandemic that would wipe out a lot of us. So, that’s genetic engineering. Another case for
genetic engineering–>>Simon Longstaff:
Did you have to make that case with that positive?>>Peter Doherty: You have
to, and it’s very hard because Greenpeace and various
organisations will just vilify you if you try and
talk about this. We’ve had people try and talk
about GM in rural communities and just been shouted out.>>Simon Longstaff: So,
you are not allowed, you pointed politicians,
big business and others as the enemies of science.>>Peter Doherty:
No, but it’s also–>>Simon Longstaff: But
you say Greenpeace, too?>>Peter Doherty: Actually, Greenpeace is great
with a lot of things. I really think Greenpeace is
wonderful in a lot of things. They’re totally irresponsible
when it comes to GM. They simply shout it down. That’s what I’m saying. It’s this culture
of shared belief that you cannot discuss this. Another thing that’s been
blocked is they say it’s all Monsanto making a profit. Well, it’s not. There’s enormous amount of publicly funded
science in that area. There’s people trying to develop
drought resistant varieties the would go longer without
needing rain. There are people trying to
improve the nutritional value, and Ingo Potrykus’s
vitamin A rice. About 600,000 kids
mostly die every year from vitamin A deficiencies in
countries like the Philippines and that part of the world. And you can correct that by
feeding this vitamin A rice.>>Simon Longstaff:
We have to finish up. Are you optimistic
that science will win in the knowledge
wars in the end?>>Peter Doherty: Well,
you know, basically I’m in characteristic
against denial. Optimism is denial. Of course I’m optimistic.>>Simon Longstaff: Right. Well, on that cheerful note. [ Applause ] [ Music ]

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