3rd Nobel Prize winner backs petition: keep creationist teaching out of Scots schools

John Sulston.jpgSir John Sulston, of the Manchester University Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation, joins Sir Harold Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts as the third Nobel Prize winner to sign the petition

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time:


Sir John was joint winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Sydney Brenner and H. Robert Horvitz, “for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death”. This terse description hides a long saga of exploration, involving techniques ranging from DNA sequencing at a time when that was still a new and laborious technique, to watching cells divide in living nematode worms on microscope slides.

We are particularly proud that Sir John has joined this effort, for reasons that will be clear if you read his Nobel Prize biographical essay and the final sections of his Nobel Prize lecture. The Human Genome Project involved at one stage direct competition between publicly funded research, and a private company (Celera Genomics), for control; Sir John wrote about this in his bookThe Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics and the Human Genome. This experience informed his thinking on a number of topics, including the purposes of discovery, and what he calls “the global consequences of ignoring common goods in the quest for short term profit.” Creationism (unlike the climate change denialism to which it is increasingly allied) may not be driven by the wish to protect profit, but is equally corrosive of one of the most fragile and important of common goods; an educated society that acknowledges scientific reality.

Some readers may wonder how Sir Harold, Sir Richard, and Sir John came to be involved in this project, or how I came to be involved with them. Here I claim no special eminence or entitlement. But I was in the audience when Sir Harold spoke memorably to Glasgow’s Cafe’ Scientifique on the subject of science education and communication in a connected world. This, together with the fact that he is an Honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, established in my mind a Scottish connection, so I initially approached him. Not only did he agree to lend his support, but he suggested three others whom I should contact, and whom I have approached armed with that introduction. Two of these (Sir Richard and Sir John) have now responded; the third is on holiday. I can only express my gratitude to scholars of such eminence, and with so many claims on their time, who have nonetheless given their attention to our concerns.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on August 26, 2014, in Creationism, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Scotland. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I see no reason for limiting this to “publicly funded schools”. No school should be teaching “separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time”. It is not a matter of parental choice which ideas are to be considered to be within the purview of science.


  1. Pingback: Third nobel prizewinner backs Scottish Secular Society petition to keep creationist teaching out of Scottish schools | Scottish Secular Society


  3. Pingback: Keeping creationism out of Scottish schools; the long, long paper trail | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism

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