CAE Reading and Use of English Part 8
You are going to read an article about the Royal Society, a British scientific institution. For questions 47-56, choose from the sections of the article (A-E). The sections may be chosen more than once.
In which section of the article are the following mentioned?
47 a belief that a certain development has been of particular use to scientists
48 the variety of ways in which the Royal Society encourages people who are not scientists to consider scientific issues
49 a rapid reaction to research being made public
50 a particular development that requires urgent action to improve it
51 a resource for information on past scientific discoveries
52 a lack of understanding of scientific matters among people in general
53 a system that the Royal Society introduced
54 the fact that scientists do not always reach firm conclusions
55 a problem that is not limited to the world of science
56 the belief that certain things that are possible are not desirable
The unstoppable spirit of inquiry
The president of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, celebrates the long history of one of Britain’s greatest institutions.
The Royal Society began in 1660. From the beginning, the wide dissemination of scientific ideas was deemed important. The Society started to publish Philosophical Transaction, the first scientific journal, which continues to this day. The Society’s journals pioneered what is still the accepted procedure whereby scientific ideas are subject to peer review – criticised, refined and codified into ‘public knowledge’. Over the centuries, they published Isaac Newton’s researches on light, Benjamin Franklin’s experiments on lightning, Volta’s first battery and many of the triumphs of twentieth century science. Those who want to celebrate this glorious history should visit the Royal Society’s archives via our Trailblazing website.
The founders of the Society enjoyed speculation, but they were also intensely engaged with the problems of their era, such as improvements to timekeeping and navigation. After 350 years, our horizons have expanded, but the same engagement is imperative in the 21st century. Knowledge has advanced hugely, but it must be deployed for the benefit of the ever-growing population of our planet, all empowered by ever more powerful technology. The silicon chip was perhaps the most transformative single invention of the past century; it has allowed miniaturisation and spawned the worldwide reach of mobile phones and the internet. It was physicists who developed the World Wide Web and, though it impacts us all, scientists have benefited especially.
Traditional journals survive as guarantors of quality, but they are supplemented by a blogosphere of widely varying quality. The latter cries out for an informal system of quality control. The internet levels the playing fields between researchers in major centres and those in relative isolation. It has transformed the way science is communicated and debated. In 2002, three young Indian mathematicians invented a faster scheme for factoring large numbers -something that would be crucial for code-breaking. They posted their results on the web. Within a day, 20,000 people had downloaded the work, which was the topic of hastily convened discussions in many centres of mathematical research around the world. The internet also allows new styles of research. For example, in the old days, astronomical research was stored on delicate photographic plates; these were not easily accessible and tiresome to analyse. Now such data (and large datasets in genetics and particle physics) can be accessed and downloaded anywhere. Experiments and natural events can be followed in real-time.
We recently asked our members what they saw as the most important questions facing us in the years ahead and we are holding discussion meetings on the ‘Top Ten’. Whatever breakthroughs are in store, we can be sure of one thing: the widening gulf between what science enables us to do and what it’s prudent or ethical actually to do. In respect of certain developments, regulation will be called for, on ethical as well as prudential grounds. The way science is applied is a matter not just for scientists. All citizens need to address these questions. Public decisions should be made, after the widest possible discussion, in the light of the best scientific evidence available. That is one of the key roles of the Society. Whether it is the work of our Science Policy Centre, our journals, our discussion meetings, our work in education or our public events, we must be at the heart of helping policy-makers and citizens make informed decisions.
Our science isn’t dogma. Its assertions are sometimes tentative, sometimes compelling; noisy controversy doesn’t always connote balanced arguments; risks are never absolutely zero, even if they are hugely outweighed by potential benefits. In promoting an informed debate, the media are crucial. When reporting a scientific controversy, the aim should be neither to exaggerate risks and uncertainties, nor to gloss over them. This is indeed a challenge, particularly when institutional, political or commercial pressures distort the debate. Scientists often bemoan the public’s weak grasp of science — without some ‘feel’ for the issues, public debate can’t get beyond sloganising. But they protest too much: there are other issues where public debate is, to an equally disquieting degree, inhibited by ignorance. The Royal Society aims to sustain Britain’s traditional strength in science, but also to ensure that wherever science impacts on people’s lives, it is openly debated.