The fate of the world demands that scientists and the public communicate better, writes British astronomer and former president of the Royal Society Rees (Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning, 2003, etc.).
Expanded and directed at an American audience, these are four of the distinguished Reith lectures, delivered annually over BBC radio by renowned thinkers beginning in 1948 with Bertrand Russell. Readers will learn that 21st-century science impinges on us more than ever and in ways that transform our lives, usually, but not always, for the better. It is the one “truly global culture, transcending all boundaries of nationality and faith.” America is definitely the leader, and Rees uses American institutions as examples of how to do it right (our universities are the best; our entrepreneurs the most entrepreneurial), with exceptions (our politicians who proudly reject science). No Cassandra, he reviews our planet’s looming problems, from climate change to overpopulation to nuclear war, emphasizing that there are no solutions outside of science. Since the future depends on our youth, he stresses that scientists are cool, pointing out that Einstein was a hip young guy when he made his dazzling discoveries, not the disheveled, elderly man portrayed by the media of the time. He also warns about the “tendency for long-term strategies, however important, to be trumped by more immediate issues that can be resolved within an electoral cycle.”
David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity (2011) provides a more powerful exploration of this theme, but Rees delivers shrewd insights into how science can lead us to a better future.