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Susan Greenfield

Baroness Susan Greenfield is a leading neuroscientist, Britain's most famous scientist, and the director of The Royal Institution.

From an interview published in Third Way in November 2000:

Given that the different branches of science are now so many and so specialised, does it make you cringe when prominent scientists cheerfully pontificate about disciplines way outside their specialisms?

SG: I think that all extremes make me cringe. Someone who talks about something they don't know about is always reprehensible. But equally I think it is very sad if a historian says, 'Ah, that's not my period. I only do 1902 to 1902-and-a-half.' Scientists who do the equivalent are like science accountants: they're not truly thinking outside the box. It's all a question of degree. For a neuroscientist to talk about physics might be a mistake, obviously; but I'd like to think that a brain expert could talk about all aspects of the brain, not just the one disease or the one transmitter system they work on.

I was thinking of someone like Richard Dawkins, who makes massive philosophical claims that often go far beyond the scope of his particular field of zoology-but he gets a hearing from the public, one suspects, because he is a distinguished scientist.

What I don't like about Richard is not so much what he knows or doesn't know as the dogmatic way in which he says things. I think that is a poor advertisement for science, because the whole thing about being a scientist is that you shouldn't be prejudiced, you should have an open mind. So, I don't believe in God but that is a belief, not some thing I know. I believe I love my husband, but I couldn't prove it to you one way or the other. How could I? I just know I do. My particular belief is that there is no Deity out there, but I can't prove it and therefore I would not have the temerity to tell other people they're wrong. The coinage of proof is not appropriate for belief and Dawkins thinks it is. But if you keep an open mind, that doesn't mean you swallow anything whole. As someone has said, 'Believing in anything is as bad as believing in nothing.'

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