Science, Technology and Man: Nobel Prizewinners' Round Table

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Science, technology and man

Nobel Prize-Winners' Round Table

Seated at a "Round Table' set up under the immense shell of reinforced concrete housing Unesco's Conference Hall, eight world-famous scientists, five of them Nobel Prize winners, took part in a succession of scientific and cultural events organized in November 1958 on the occasion of the inauguration of Unesco's new Headquarters and its Tenth General Conference. Vital questions arising from the impact of science and technology on human life were discussed by members of the Round Table. We present here significant passages from these debates.

Bernardo Alberto Houssay (Argentina) Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, 1947

IT is a mistake to talk of pure and applied science. There are not two kinds of science but only one, and there are the applications of that science. The public in general and governments, too, think that only applied science is useful. They are very much mistaken. People should realize that all the knowledge on which applied science is based comes from theoretical or pure science. If theoretical or pure science is brought to a halt or loses its impetus, then application, too, becomes sluggish or stopps. So we should make no distinction between these two aspects of science.

Pasteur said: "It is not the long and involved political discussions we may read about in the newspapers that help mankind to progress, but only the great discoveries of science, of human thought, and the uses to which they are put.'

P.M.S. Blackett (United Kingdom) Nobel Prize for Physics, 1948

IT is very important to realize that science, although it has achieved marvellous things, is not a magic wand to wave over a poor country and make it into a rich one. Science textbooks are cheap; it is reasonably cheap to train scientists; but it is extremely expensive to embody the science in the factories, the steel works, the transport systems, the power stations, the mines and the chemical plants. They all cost an enormous amount of capital, and the poor countries are very hard put to find capital. And that simple economic reason is why science is so very unevenly applied over the world today.

I agree that the most important thing for mankind is not to blow itself up. But I am, curiously, an optimist about this matter. . . . And assuming that we won't blow ourselves up, what is the next main problem?

I think the next main problem is to do something about the widening gap between the rich and the poor parts of the world, the rich countries which have successfully used science and obtained all the benefits, and the poor ones which have not. Now, if we don't do something about this widening gap, in a few decades, if the standard of life in the West goes up at the present rate, we may end up with a large part of the world poverty-stricken, as for centuries past, while the advanced countries of the West are enjoying (if "enjoying' is the right term) what has been called a "five-day weekend'.

John Boyd Orr (United Kingdom) Nobel Peace Prize, 1949

IT is the advance of science, leading to technology and to the birth of new ideas, which has guided the full evolution of our civilization. …