Laureate lauds science as a tool for peace

The Nation - Friday, February 06, 2004

The potential of science as a force for peace should be better promoted, a Nobel Prize winner told a Bangkok audience yesterday. Dr Richard J Roberts, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1993, said science was generally a peaceful activity and should be respected for that.

'They [scientists] typically don't take up arms and shoot one another to try to find out who is correct,' Roberts said during his keynote lecture, 'Spreading Peace Through Science and Commerce'', at the Asian Institute of Technology.

However, Roberts acknowledged that scientific findings were open to abuse by third parties.

He said politicians were very bad when it came to using logic and reason and tended to have other motives when making decisions.

Scientists, especially prize-winning ones, had great access to politicians and should play a more positive role in fostering peace, he said.

He said science also played a major role in commerce, which was inherently a peace-oriented activity.

Physics had helped develop commercial applications for laser and computer technologies, while chemistry gave us the likes of detergent and fertiliser.

Biotechnology, which was now experiencing a revolution, supplied consumers with new drugs and crops.

Roberts said about one third, or at least a quarter, of government research funding to universities and other agencies in the US was now pumped into biology.

He said it was unfortunate that Europe and many third-world countries were shunning genetically modified (GM) food.

GM crops had existed for thousands of years, but only now had scientists been able to manipulate a specific gene.

'Many developing countries will not accept GM food, even if it is given to them for free. This is an appalling affair,' he said.

Roberts urged Thailand to treat its flora and fauna with care and its precious pool of bio-resources like gold or oil.

Yesterday's event was organised by the International Peace Foundation as part of the ongoing 'Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace'' lecture series.

Pravit Rojanaphruk