Science co-opted by big business endangers society and stultifies the imagination on which the advancement of science depends; liberating science and the imagination is top priority for the survival of people and planet.
Science is central to every aspect of our everyday lives and our wellbeing, be it to do with climate change, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), nuclear energy, mobile telephony, or the tens of thousands of chemicals to which we are constantly exposed in our homes, workplace, and the general environment.
Science is also a force for innovation, and investing in science is indeed investing in wealth creation and the future.
Science, as much as the arts and humanities, needs to be thoroughly integrated into the social, cultural and political fabric of society; science-literacy is essential if we are to have a truly democratic society in which everyone can participate in making important decisions on science and science policies.
Integrating science in society and promoting public understanding is all the more important as science has been co-opted by big business more intent on profit than serving the public good or telling the truth about safety and sustainability. In my book Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare  (first published in 1998, translated into many languages, and reprinted with an introduction and update in 2007), I argued how bad science — in the form of outmoded and discredited genetic determinism — has colluded with big business unwittingly or otherwise to bring us the ‘brave new world’ of GMOs and animal and human cloning.
It has become increasingly difficult for people to get reliable and critical scientific information for deciding not only which technologies to adopt, but more importantly, which scientific research to support on the basis of social, ethical, environmental and aesthetic merit. There is a widespread and mistaken assumption that science is neutral or ‘value-free’ and hence beyond reproach, so it is only the technology arising from the science that can be good or bad.
Science, as opposed to religious dogma, is not about certainties; it is changing all the time. But, as in any other field of human endeavour, the status quo tends to hang on for far too long, because of vested interests in huge profits, top jobs, big research grants, and personal prestige and reputation. It is incredibly hard for new findings and new ideas to get a hearing in the wider scientific community, or for old, discredited theories like neo-Darwinism and reductionist, mechanistic biology in general to die. And all the more so when the old guard are backed by big corporations that have taken over every sector of society including our most sacred and revered academic institutions  The Corporate Take Over of Science (ISIS News 7/8).
Corporate interests have so thoroughly infiltrated our academic institutions that scientists are no longer free to work for the public good or tell the truth, or do anything new and exciting. Honest scientists who insist on doing so are persecuted and victimised, and by their own academic institutions that should be protecting and defending them.
Science that is not free stultifies the imagination on which the advancement of science depends. We need good, independent, and creative science to help exit the global financial crisis, not to mention the food crisis, health crisis, and climate change. Liberating science is top priority for the survival of people and planet.
The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) was founded in 1999 to provide critical yet accessible scientific information to the public and policy makers, to reclaim science for the public good, and to promote accountability and sustainability in science and science policies. My husband Peter Saunders and I, both academic scientists, felt that science was too important to be left just to popularisers, philosophers, or social scientists lacking a thorough grounding in science. In particular, the reductionist paradigm derived from classical physics has outlived its usefulness and doing great harm to people and planet. We felt it was high time to go beyond to an organic, holistic perspective consonant with quantum physics that can enable us to live sustainably with nature; specifically by integrating our human economy into the circular economy (or thermodynamics) of nature (see  The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms, ISIS publication, and  Living, Green and Circular, SiS 53). Our main focus is science, how to save science, – for the love of science is what made us scientists in the first place – and how to make science work for society, for people and planet.
ISIS produces lively reports posted on its popular website www.i-sis.org.uk, archived by the British Library since 2009 as part of UK’s national documentary heritage. The reports are circulated to a large e-mail list that includes all sectors of civil society worldwide, from small farmers in India to policy-makers in the United Nations. We publish an attractively illustrated, trend-setting quarterly art/science magazine Science in Society, and topical in-depth, influential, and timely reports as well as monographs.
ISIS also initiates major campaigns from time to time, including a global ban on GMOs and shift to sustainable, fossil-fuel-free, non-GM agriculture, and a truly green economy. These are launched with comprehensive reports: The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World  in 2003, Which Energy?  in 2006, Food Futures Now *Organic*Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free  in 2008, followed by  Green Energies – 100% Renewable by 2050 in 2009.
Our latest campaign to Reclaim Beauty and Truth in Science and Art, Quantum Jazz Biology, Medicine, and Art , was launched in a unique art/science event 26-27 March 2011. A wholefoods factory was transformed overnight into an art gallery and music/lecture hall around the theme of ‘quantum jazz’, the sublime aesthetic of quantum coherence in living systems and the living universe. For our next act, we are presenting Colours of Water, a festival inspired by water 12-28 March 2013 at the Menier Gallery in London (further details on: https://www.i-sis.org.uk/coloursofwater/). There will be exhibitions, conferences, workshops and multimedia performances by an amazing international cast of artists, scientists, musicians, and other social leaders, all convinced that the science and art of water hold the key to a social transformation towards the organic paradigm. Come and make the revolution happen; you are all invited.
Liberating science is obviously very important; but more so, liberating the imagination, which is why we take art and science together so seriously. Scientists, especially the greatest scientists are motivated by the beauty of the natural order of things. So intensely felt is the love for the beauty of a scientific theory that some scientists don’t seem to care whether the theory happens to be true. Fortunately, really beautiful theories tend to be true, in the sense that their predictions can be tested and confirmed empirically. Indian-born American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995), recipient of the 1983 Nobel Prize for his work on the evolution of stars, made the case in his book Truth and Beauty, Aesthetics and Motivation in Science published 1987. In my own essay inspired by his thesis  Why Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty (SiS 50), I argue that the same love of beauty and truth (authenticity) motivates the best artists as much as the best scientists, and hence art and science are completely congruent in that respect. It also seems entirely obvious that nothing can be really understood without being deeply felt, and so a scientist has to be a romantic poet at heart, just as the artist in quest of truth and authenticity must have a scientist’s intuition of coherence and concordance.
In my essay, I stress that transcendence of the mundane is a hallmark of beauty in both science and art. That’s why one should be wary of educationalists who insist on reducing science and mathematics to prosaic everyday experience. That’s also why we should hang onto that dumb inspiration, the sublime feeling of beauty that leaves you lost for words; for that’s what fires the imagination towards great scientific theories and works of art.
Science unfree stultifies and stifles the imagination. Without imagination (and intuition), real science is impossible. Intuition is the ability to perceive something immediately without conscious reasoning. Imagination goes one step further: it is the ability to bring to mind images and ideas that are not immediately present to the senses. It is to take off on a flight of fancy to purvey the entire universe in your mind’s eye.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said of discovering the laws of physics :
“There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.”
Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was among the greatest scientists of the 20th century, and perhaps the most imaginative. In a monumental book The Character of Physical Law, which lays bare the profound mysteries of the physical universe and its uneasy relationship to mathematics for the uninitiated, he wrote :
“A new idea is extremely difficult to think of. It takes a fantastic imagination.”
William Ian Beardmore Beveridge (1908-2006) in The Art of Scientific Investigation published in 1957 said :
“Facts and ideas are dead in themselves, and it is the imagination that gives life to them.” (It goes without saying that you must also follow imagination with rational thought to succeed.)
Science and imagination go together, and the only way to ensure they stay together is to have an education that includes both science and art, whatever the specialization. Many universities in the United States already require a course on calculus for those majoring in the arts and humanities and art courses for scientists. Richard Feynman is a wonderful role model; not only did he play the bongo drums and other musical instruments superbly; he also learned to paint well enough to put on a one-man show, turned himself into an expert on Mayan culture on demand, became a critic of science education, a biologist if only briefly, a lock-picker, and many other things in response to challenges and opportunities that came his way .
How to liberate science & imagination?
How can we liberate science and the imagination? We need to promote openness and transparency above all. Public debates over scientific disagreements should be encouraged, and in terms that the public can understand. Critical science literacy should be promoted for the public as well as policy-makers, so that it is not just the word of one ‘expert’ against another. Politicians should never fall into the trap of assuming that what the majority of scientists say must be right. Never trust politicians who are science illiterate. Science should be evidence-based for all to judge for themselves. There is nothing special about scientific evidence. It is like any other kind of evidence, and must be judged accordingly.
We need to support ‘mavericks’ and ‘dissenters’, for they are most likely the real innovators. Unfortunately, they are often isolated, if not ostracized, as the trend is to support bigger and bigger groups doing conventional and often boring and useless research. Every group should include people who go beyond the status quo, and indeed, research proposals should be judged by how far they go beyond the status quo, because that’s what doing science is all about. True scientists are radicals at heart.
Finally, scientists should be working closely with those whom their research most directly affects, for example, agricultural scientists should be working closely with farmers. Scientists should be encouraged to take part in solving real problems for society.
You will no doubt say: How can scientists get the funding they need and still remain free and independent?
There has been a suggestion of a levee on industry to support independent research on risks of products that they are promoting. In my view, the independence and freedom of scientists to publish and tell the truth must be guaranteed by law, no matter who is supporting their research. This is beneficial for all concerned, especially in the long run.
I have been asked if we can ever ensure that science is used for democratic and socially just aims while it is being used (and funded) by a capitalist system (see  Mae-Wan Ho on Science and Democracy, SiS 51). My answer is: It depends on what you call a capitalist system. Is a cooperative system of collective ownership capitalist? Is a system in which a few corporations control the whole world an inevitable outcome of capitalism? I very much take the view that given the right kind of science, say, an organic science fully acknowledging the cooperation and reciprocity that sustain nature (as opposed to the current reductionist paradigm of competition and exploitation), the appropriate political system will emerge to guarantee that science will be used for democratic and socially just ends.
In summary, in order to liberate science and the imagination, we must
- Keep science and art education together regardless of specialization, in order to create a science-literate society
- Promote openness and transparency in the practice of science
- Protect honest, independent scientists to tell the truth by law
- Remove conflict of interest from regulatory agencies
- Support open peer review and open debates on scientific disagreements
- Reject commercial confidentiality on any matter regarding safety
- Allocate much more funding to risk research
- Promote innovation by encouraging challenges to conventional approaches
- Introduce open citizen’s review on science funding.
- Ho MW. Genetic Engineering Dream of Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Third World Network, Gateway Books, MacMillan, Continuum, Penang, Malaysia, Bath, UK, Dublin, Ireland, New York, USA, 1998, 1999, 2007 (reprint with extended Introduction). https://www.i-sis.org.uk/genet.php https://www.i-sis.org.uk/genet.php
- Ho MW. The corporate takeover of science. Review of Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, by George Monbiot, Macmillan, London, 2000, https://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews/i-sisnews7-35.php
- Ho MW. The Rainbow and the Worm, the Physics of Organisms, World Scientific, 1993, 2nd edition, 1996, 3rd enlarged edition, 2008, Singapore and London.
- Ho MW. Living, green & circular. Science in Society 53, 20-23, 2012.
- Ho MW and Lim LC. The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World, Independent Science Panel Report, Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network, London and Penang, 2003; republished GM-Free, Exposing the Hazards of Biotechnology to Ensure the Integrity of Our Food Supply, Vitalhealth Publishing, Ridgefield, Ct., 2004 (both available from ISIS online bookstore https://www.i-sis.org.uk/onlinestore/books.php#1)
- Ho MW, Bunyard P, Saunders PT, Bravo E and Gala R. ISIS and TWN, London and Penang, 2006.
- Ho MW, Burcher S, Lim LC, et al. Food Futures Now, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS and TWN, London, 2008. https://www.i-sis.org.uk/foodFutures.php
- Ho MW, Cherry B, Burcher S and Saunders PT. Green Energies, 100 % Renewables by 2010, ISIS/TWN, London, Penang, 2009, https://www.i-sis.org.uk/GreenEnergies.php
- Quantum Jazz Biology, Medicine, & Art. Di you miss the science/art “event of a life time”? ISIS, 5 May 2011, https://www.i-sis.org.uk/event_of_a_life_time.php
- Ho MW. Why beauty is truth and truth beauty. Science in Society 50, 32-37, 2011.
- Einstein A. cited in Beveridge WIB. The Art of Scientific Investigation, Norton, New York, 1957.
- Feynman RP. The Character of Physical Law, 1965, with an Introduction by Paul Davis, Penquin Books, London, 1992.
- Beveridge WIB. The Art of Scientific Investigation, Norton, New York, 1957.
- Feyman RP. “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feyman!” Adventures of a Curious Character, Bantam Books, New York, 1988.
- Mae-Wan Ho on science & democracy, Interview by Emma Hughs of Red Pepper magazine. Science in Society 51, 14-17, 2011.