Science a 'universal language'

The Nation - Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The teaching of science can help overcome cultural differences and foster world peace, Nobel Prize winner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji said yesterday.

The 71-year-old College de France professor said science is universal and speaks the same language, so it can help overcome social barriers, but more needed to be done to educate youngsters as well as adults on the scientific method.

He warned that the world is now facing a threat from religious fundamentalism, especially from Islamic and Christian fundamentalists.

“What I expect of religion is [an] open mind [but fundamentalism] tries to impose itself on others. I’m completely allergic to that,” said the soft-spoken 1997 Nobel laureate for physics, who developed methods of laser cooling and trapping atoms in laser light.

“Some people believe they have the truth and [when] some people don’t believe in that truth they kill them,” he said, adding that he is not against religion but believes that intolerance and fanaticism must be fought against.

The professor, who is also here as part of the Bridges lectures, expressed concern for New Age fashion where people have less trust in science and search back to pre-industrial culture for wisdom. “You ignore something you are afraid of,” Cohen-Tannoudji said, adding, however, that there is no absolute truth in science because any scientific model is just a model where new theories eventually replace old ones.

Cohen-Tannoudji also told The Nation that he is concerned about the brain drain of scientists from India, China and even lately from France to the United States, which has led to a concentration of scientific minds and findings in the US, creating an unbalanced world.

“It’s dangerous for everybody to have a single advanced technological country,” he said.

Pravit Rojanaphruk