The history of the world in the Literary Arena, Latitude Festival

Posted on July 27, 2012

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written by Robert Pollard for Festival Republic

Latitude takes pride in being culturally and intellectually enriching. In the Literature Arena, one can find discussions and lectures on a diverse range of issues; from poetry and novels, to football and music. This lecture concerned science and, more specifically, the discovery of the Higgs Boson, a subatomic particle responsible for giving matter different properties. The star attraction at this event was Professor Brian Cox, whose reputation for being able to make science understandable and accessible for all continues to grow. He was joined by his fellow researcher at CERN, Professor Jon Butterworth.

Cox believes science is fundamental to society’s progression and that funding for research is vital, making the case that science is taking ‘the complexities of the universe and amalgamating them’. The reaction to Higgs Boson has, on the one hand, been encouraging since awareness of scientific research has been raised. But the lack of understanding of the issue has alarmed many, something Cox feels is down to a lack of education; an issue that needs addressing.

The reactionary media analysis to the Higgs Boson announcement has also proved frustrating for Professor Butterworth and the presenter of the discussion, Robin Ince. Ince lamented the Jeremy Vine Show’s response which, rather than considering the science behind the discovery, turned swiftly to conspiracy theories. Butterworth told us about a one hour interview he conducted soon after the press conference, 40 minutes of which was taken up with an irrelevant question about how the discovery will intersect with religion. It seems the science community crave a higher level of intellectual engagement from the wide public.

Political posturing was offered as a reason for the vilification of scientists in certain sections of the media. Professor Cox suggested that certain right-wing commentators who take issue with policy decisions based on scientific research, then attack the science community rather than policy makers, is a problem for science and society. This, he feels, is most obvious in the area of climate change.

How the universe works is an area of study that will continue to evolve and both Cox and Butterworth would be happy of their theory was superseded by an evolved theory. Whatever new discoveries are made, I wouldn’t be surprised if Professor Cox was at the heart of them.

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Posted in: Science