Society Is In 'Very Dangerous' Place, Nobel Scientist Paul Nurse Warns


For the past few years, the world has been living through crisis after crisis. A pandemic, the war in Ukraine, an energy crisis and catastrophic climate change, with the impending threat of uncontrolled artificial intelligence lurking in the wings.

Compounding these crises is the increasingly divided nature of society, stifling discourse and collective action.

"We live in an increasingly sophisticated society that depends a lot on science and technology that many normal people don't fully understand, that even scientists like me don't fully understand," Nobel Prize–winning geneticist Paul Nurse told Newsweek. "And that is a very dangerous formula for the spread of myths and the spread of lies. And these can be amplified by social media."

Nurse, who is the international education and science ambassador for Ukraine's government-led fundraising platform United24, emphasized the importance of education and collaboration in combating this misinformation.

"I would say that one of the biggest challenges for a successful democracy in the coming decades is the ability of society to have grown-up conversations about these complex issues that cannot be solved by science alone," Nurse said. "They have to be solved by society and our elected politicians."

In recent years, we have seen it is possible for society to work together and progress rapidly in a state of emergency. "Look at COVID," Nurse said. "Look how suddenly we could produce a vaccine in months rather than years. Suddenly, we could grow development and new ways of testing in almost weeks rather than months. So under crisis you solve problems because they become a political imperative.

"When you are in crisis, several things happen," he went on. "One is politicians start waking up and taking notice of it. Second, because of the importance of this crisis, the resources are made available, and they are invested. And when you do that, when the political power, which in a democracy reflects people's interests, is activated, they take on these problems. And science delivers."

However, when societal threats are less immediately obvious, this sense of urgency disappears.

"Politicians could learn from [the developments we saw during the COVID pandemic], that they can also deliver on solving lots of other problems in normal times because we're not really ever living in normal times, with climate change and the potential of future pandemics," Nurse said.

"If the public and the political leadership is sufficiently interested, science will deliver," he said.