The dangers of science behind closed doors




Great scientific breakthroughs have often historically been presented to general readers in compelling and accessible ways. In the 21st century, however, the gulf between what is written for specialists and what is accessible to the average reader is widening, writes Martin Rees. Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published in 1860, was a best-seller: readily accessible – even fine literature – as well as an epochal contribution to science. But that was an exception. In glaring contrast, Gregor Mendel’s 1866 paper entitled ‘Experiments with Plant Hybrids’, reporting the classic experiments on sweet peas conducted in his monastery garden was published in an obscure journal and wasn’t properly appreciated for decades. Darwin had the journal in his library, but the pages remained uncut. It is a scientific tragedy that he never absorbed Mendel’s work, which laid the foundations for modern genetics….

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