Paul Nurse calls for a new Enlightenment in Dimbleby lecture

29 February 2012

Paul Nurse delivers the Dimbleby lecture

Image: Paul Nurse delivers the Dimbleby lecture©  BBC

Paul Nurse, the Director of the Francis Crick Institute and President of the Royal Society, has called for science to be placed centre stage in our culture and economy.

Giving the annual Richard Dimbleby lecture, broadcast on BBC 1, Sir Paul described how science had shaped the world and made it a better place.

He told his audience at the Royal College of Physicians in London: "We need a new Enlightenment, an Enlightenment for the 21st century, and Britain is the place to do it with its history of freedom, rationality, and scientific achievement. We need more science in Government, the boardroom, and public services, we need more funding for science, we need greater engagement with the public and a society comfortable with science, we need to convey the wonder of science, and what it contributes to our civilization.”

Sir Paul explained how his passion for science had begun when as a nine year-old boy he watched a star that was rapidly moving and was very bright. It was Sputnik Two, the second man made satellite to orbit the earth.

He said: “The natural world is fascinating, and is even more so if you are prepared to observe, to experiment, to think, and to try and understand. That is what scientists do, and there is a little bit of the scientist in all of us, especially when we are children.”

He talked about the practical benefits of science – generating knowledge that when properly used leads to applications through technologies and engineering for the public good.

In a passionate speech, he argued: “We should reawaken the spirit of the Enlightenment, a respect for science and rationality, a free sharing of ideas and thinking with people from all walks of life, revive the energy of the Industrial Revolution, and have the courage to take risks and be true entrepreneurs.”

He said he hoped the Crick would not just be a place for scientific experiments, but also a place for experimenting in the way science was done: “As Director of the Institute, I want to create a cultural and economic hot house of scientific ideas and applications, to make exciting discoveries improving our health and driving our economy.”

He added: “I do not want scientists to stay in their labs all the time, I want them to mix with the best minds from industry, the city, the public services, the media, to spark off new ideas to help science benefit us all.”

“It will be a place without departments or restricting hierarchies, with scientists free to pursue their own creative ideas in a highly interactive and open building. If it sounds a bit like anarchy, that is because it will be a bit like anarchy. It is often in mixed up and chaotic circumstances that the most creative work is done.”

The Francis Crick Institute is supported by six of the world's leading medical research organisations: Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King's College London. Cancer Research UK’s Create The Change campaign is inviting the UK and the world’s leading philanthropists to drive forward medical research and raise £100m towards the Francis Crick Institute by 2015.

  • Paul Nurse is President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001
  • The Francis Crick Institute is being built at St Pancras in London. It will be completed in 2015
  • Cancer Research UK’s Create The Change campaign is inviting the UK and the world’s leading philanthropists to drive forward medical research and raise £100m towards the Francis Crick Institute by 2015