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Assignment 3 essay: an analysis of “The new enlightenment” by Sir Paul Nurse


Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and a scientist for more than 40 years gave the Richard Dimbleby lecture in 2012. In his lecture Sir Paul Nurse explains what a makes a good scientist, what the basis for science is and how science can and should be used, and finally how it should be implemented by for example the public, the politics and the economy. He wanted to share the wonder of science in his lecture, what it is to be a scientist and how it enhances culture and civilisation. As he said “science matters to us all” In this essay I will analyse his lecture using the concepts of boundary work, the philosophy of science, the linear model and the roles of science.

Boundary work

You can use the boundary work perspective to find the demarcation between science and non-science that is drawn by scientists or in a scientific report. Some general definitions of boundary work: “Boundary work demarcates science from other knowledge systems and serves as interface that facilitates knowledge exchange” Cash (2003). “Boundary work defines a practice in contrast with other practices, protects it from unwanted participants and interference, while attempting to prescribe proper ways of behaviour for participants and non-participants (demarcation); simultaneously, boundary work defines proper ways for interaction between these practices and makes such interaction possible and conceivable (coordination)” Turnhout & Halffman (2012). To put these definitions into practice; boundary work is the demarcation between science and non-science based on certain criteria’s that are influenced by the scientist himself. So Sir Paul Nurse has his own criteria to demarcate science from non-science, based on his own experiences and influences on his view. So the boundary work perspective can be used in the analysis to find the criteria that Sir Paul Nurse uses to demarcate science from non-science.

There are some concepts that are important in the demarcation between science and non-science, and to identify someone’s view of the definition of science. There are in the epistemology (theory of knowledge) two ways to obtain knowledge. We can obtain knowledge through reasoning, “pure thought”, rationalism (Descartes) and we can also obtain knowledge through sensory experience, observation in the fields or in experiments, empiricism (Bacon, Locke). The empiricism way is more pointed to the facts or the data. According to sir Paul Nurse: “The data trumps all” and “the bedrock from which all science flows is reproducible observation an experiment”. We can assume that sir Paul Nurse obtains knowledge through the facts, data or experiments and less through pure thought or reasoning. He gives more value to empiricism.  According to empiricism, after having made a large number of observations we are justified in formulating an empirical law, an universal statement. This is known as induction (generalisation), but there is always a chance that you are wrong and there is never a 100 per cent certainty. However if you do more observations it becomes more secure (Lecture Henk van den Belt 2-11-2016).This is underlined by sir Paul Nurse: “… and it is only after repeated testing that is becomes increasingly secure.”

There are two other concepts important in the demarcation between science and non-science and for formulating your own definition of science, constructivism and essentialism. The two concepts are each other opponents, “Constructivism states that it is not possible to distinct science from other knowledge production by using strict boundaries. Changes in scientists’ views are not only the result of subjective elements but also because of group dynamics, revolutions in scientific practice and paradigm changes” (Kuhn, 1970). “Essentialism on the other hand describes a world where science can easily be distinguished from other knowledge production. Generally it can be stated as: an object must possess these specific properties to be considered member of this kind. Here, strict boundaries are used to describe science” (Drewery, 2004). Sir Paul Nurse stated that “scientists work in a variety of ways that are not unique to science”, but when these various ways are combined together, “they produce a process that is very powerful of creating science”. As described above, Sir Paul Nurse stated that science must be based on observations and experiments, and that “the ability to prove that something is not true is at the centre of science and that is what science distinguish it from believes based on religion and  ideology”. Sir Paul Nurse distinguishes between science and non-science as seen in the quotes above by giving criteria that demarcates science from non-science. Therefore we can say that essentialism is more in its right than constructivism in the view of Sir Paul Nurse for the demarcation of science from other forms of knowledge.

Boundaries between science and non-science

Science is according to sir Paul Nurse as described above based on data, observations and experiments and repeating these experiments over and over. “The data trumps all”, and “ Scientific issues are settled by the overall strength of evidence”, but observations and experiments alone are not enough to formulate good science. “ it is the ability to prove that something is not true, which is at the centre of science” (Sir Paul Nurse). He refers to falsification; the possibility that a statement, theory or hypothesis can be proved false as a good criteria to demarcate science from non-science. Falsification is the view of Karl Popper, where there is always a possibility that science, for example in the form of a research report, can be rejected if it is proven false. There is always a chance that your theory can be rejected (E Turnhout & W. Halffman 2012). So Sir Paul Nurse demarcate science from non-science among other things (as described in the paragraph above) by the possibility of falsification which distinguishes it from beliefs based on religion and ideology which rely more on faith, tradition and opinion. There must be no influence of ideology, politics and religion towards science. These influences must be separated from science. As Sir Paul Nurse pointed out twice, “ the time for politics is after the science not before”. So science must not be influenced with non-scientific concepts. So what makes good science? There are some conditions in which science can flourish according to Sir Paul Nurse, which are well embedded in the United Kingdom. Science can flourish in “a tradition of respect for empiricism, emphasising reliable observation and experiment, and science must be carried out in a culture of openness and freedom”. These conditions are the basis of the “climate” in which good science can be produced, but science itself must also operate in a good way. There are different forms of science in the spectrum of science itself and there should be equal investment and attention of every part of the spectrum of science. “The temptation to invest too heavily in a particular part of this spectrum should be resisted”(Sir Paul Nurse). It is important to invest in the different forms of science, for example if you only concentrate on the translation of science and not on the discovery even though they are connected. You need to discover new science before you can translate it. To be a good scientist and to produce good science, personal qualities are also important. Sir Paul Nurse: “There are also personal qualities which are important for science, including a sceptical attitude, honesty, transparency, courtesy in scientific dispute, humility and self-doubt”. Science is often driven by a particular idea of a scientist, but according to Sir Paul Nurse the discoveries made when you do observations without a precise idea is also important.  “Following where nature leads you”.  

Linear model

“ These (social problems/questions) are issues of crucial significance, but can only be addressed if we enjoy a healthy relationship between science and society” (Sir Paul Nurse). Sir Paul Nurse underlines in this quote the importance of a good relationship between science and society. The linear model shows the relationship between science and society. Science is strictly separated for the decision-making process in society. The information flows in one direction, the scientist produces science which can be used by the society. There is no involvement of the society in science or otherwise. However there are different problems with the linear model in practice (E Turnhout & W. Halffman 2012). There is a gap between science and society in the model, there is more involvement of science in society in practice and the other way around. This is stated by the information deficit model. This model shows the linear relationship between science and society and the flow of information of the scientist to the society with the so called “ gap” (Fernandez, 2016). In practice they influence each other and science needs society for research questions and the society needs science for answers and for their development. Knowledge needs translation for society. This translation is an uncertainty because the translation can be a distortion of the truth. How should the connection be between science and society?

 According to sir Paul Nurse there must be a healthy relationship between science and society, a society that is comfortable with science and this can be achieved:  “Scientists need to identify issues early, and to encourage open debate about the implications and consequences of scientific and technological advances” and “…This is essential if we are to have a society that is comfortable with science and that can reap the benefits it can bring”. With this Sir Paul Nurse means the first quote above. So there must be more interaction between science and the society. Another way to make the society comfortable with sciences starts at the schools. The schools should teach the correct view of science, that science is not equally secure and that knowledge can be tentative.  “This view of science should receive greater emphasis at school, because the public would be better able to appreciate how science impacts on society” ( Sir Paul Nurse). Science must be social accepted in the society and that is a part of the ideal of Sir Paul Nurse. He wants proper, good science based on data, facts, experiments and observations that is useful for the society and economy. He want a good relationship between science, society and economy, which no influence of the politics or the media, and no time pressure on scientific research.

Roles of science

There are different roles that scientific experts adopt at the crossroads between science, policy and society. There are five roles, the pure scientist, the arbiter, the advocate, the broker and the participative expert.

The pure scientist focusses on the facts, numbers and figures. He delivers the facts but doesn’t interpret them. A pure scientist restricts himself to delivering data only. He leaves the implementation to for example the politics or the society. The pure scientist believes that strict separations between science on the one hand and society and politics on the other are crucial to protect scientific authority. The pure scientist  fits in the linear model. He believes in the one-way direction of science and that science and society are separated (Broekhans, B., & Turnhout, E. 2012).

The arbiter intends to deliver the same kind of knowledge as the pure scientist, but the arbiter will  deliver science that best fits the questions of the decision makers. The arbiter will hold on to objective standards and avoid normative points of view. He does not interpret the knowledge but delivers the best fitting science that is available for certain questions. The arbiter informs the decision makers but does not give advice (Broekhans, B., & Turnhout, E. 2012).

The advocate does offer solutions instead of only knowledge and is willing to interpret, evaluate and apply knowledge. The advocate takes a normative position with regard to knowledge use and problem solving. He translates science to advice and offers solutions. The advocate goes a step further than the arbiter an translate knowledge into advice what the possibilities are for a certain question (Broekhans, B., & Turnhout, E. 2012).

The broker, similar with the advocate engages in the decision making process but broadens the scope of possible problem definitions and solutions. The broker offers, like the advocate advice and translation of knowledge but takes the different perspectives and interests of the actors involved into account. The broker doesn’t focus on the solutions for one actor, but on solutions for the common problem of the actors. The broker brings the different actors involved in a debate together. The broker wants to deliver usable knowledge and options that can be used by the different actors, with of courses different views and opinions.  The broker looks more at the whole”  process” (Broekhans, B., & Turnhout, E. 2012).

The participatory expert is the role that is the most participated in the decision making process. The participatory expert uses his own scientific background to find solutions in cooperation with the stakeholders in a debate. There are two important aspects connected with the participatory expert, besides scientists other form of knowledge are relevant, like lay knowledge and action are intertwined in the specific question or problem (Broekhans, B., & Turnhout, E. 2012).

Different roles of science can be detected in the lecture. The view of the pure scientist can be detected in a few sentences of Sir Paul Nurse like “first the science than the politics”, but the pure scientist is not highly present in the lecture. It is not that that the pure scientist the role is that Sir Paul Nurse advocate. The arbiter is not found in the lecture, it goes a step further with the advocate. The arbiter informs but does not give advice like the advocate. “When doctors found I had blockages in the arteries around my heart I asked them for their expert view as to what I should do. They recommended a bypass, I took their consensus advice, and here I am. That is how science works”. In this example we see the roll of the advocate. The experts gives the patients (“the decision makers”) advice of what the best solution is to the certain problem. This fits in perfect with the view of the advocate and even a bit in the role of the broker, only the broker goes a step further with taking the different perspectives and interests of the actor in account. Sir Paul Nurse believes that “translating knowledge for application is part of our research”, which fit the advocate and the broker also. Sir Paul Nurse gives different examples of the participation of science and scientists certain problems or debates like global warming, to improve agriculture and to reopen the debate about GM crops. “Scientists need to identify issues early, and to encourage open debate about the implications and consequences of scientific and technological advances”. From this quote and the different examples we can make up that Sir Paul Nurse prefers an active involvement of science and scientists in the decision making process, which is in line with the broker and the participatory expert. This can be seen in his vision as the as the Director of the new Francis Crick Institute, “to create a cultural and economic hot house of scientific ideas and applications to make exciting discoveries improving our health and driving our economy”. This fits the participatory expert. He wants all the actors involved together to create science where the actors (like the economic sector, society, etc.) can profit immediately. This fits the participatory expert the most, because the participatory expert aims to bring together scientific and non-scientific forms of expertise in order to produce knowledge and find a solution to the problem, and that is exactly what sir Paul Nurse wants with his “hot house”.


“Our task (as a scientist) is to maintain, cherish and encourage our scientific endeavour, and to promote its use for the public good”. “Science must have a greater role in the Government, the board room and public services. More funding for science, greater engagement with the public and a society comfortable with science, we need to convey the wonder of science, and what it contributes to our culture and our civilization” (Sir Paul Nurse). To Summarise; science must be more engagement in the society an accepted in the society. To achieve this science and society must become closer together and involve in each other.  Sir Paul Nurse wants this with his hothouse; “mix with the best minds from industry, the city, the public services, the media, to spark off new ideas to help science benefit us all”. The interaction between the different actors has the advantage that science can be easily translated in the knowledge that is needed in a certain problem. In this way science becomes more practical, but there are also disadvantages when science is involved and connected with different actors with their own interested. After all science must lead in the process of production science and knowledge, not the actors that are interested. It is difficult to keep science independent of the actors that are involved in such a cooperation. For example the economy, Sir Paul Nurse stated that science is essential to drive the economy, but in such a cooperation you must be careful that the economy is going to drive the science for their own benefits. To let the economy thrive it must be science based according to Sir Paul Nurse, but it is important that the quality of the science produced remains, that it is not a production from example the economy.

The government can play an important role in the relations between science, the economy and society. “The government needs greater courage to properly support its stated aspiration of harnessing science and engineering  to rebalance the economy towards innovation-based sustainable growth” (Sir Paul Nurse). The government can take a role as a supervisor and a mediator. This is an important opportunity for the cooperation between these sectors.

2980 words, without references


Broekhans, B., & Turnhout, E. (2012). Course book Environmental Problems: crossing boundaries between science, policy and society. Chapter 4. Expertise in the environment

Cash, D. W., Clark, W. C., Alcock, F., Dickson, N. M., Eckley, N., Guston, D. H., ... & Mitchell, R. B. (2003). Knowledge systems for sustainable development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(14), 8086-8091.

Drewery, A. (2004) A note on science and essentials. Theoria 51: 311-320.

Fernandez, R.J. 2016 How to be a more effective environmental scientist in management and policy contexts. Environmental Science & Policy 64, 171-176

Gieryn, T. F. (1983). Boundary-work and the demarcation of science from non-science: Strains and interests in professional ideologies of scientists. American sociological review, 781-795.

Henk van den Belt (2-11-2016) Lecture philosophy of science 1: in search of the scientific method

Kuhn, T. S. (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions. Second edition. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science

Nurse, P.M. (2012) The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2012. The new enlightenment. London: The Royal Society.

Turnhout, E., & Halffman, W. (2012). Science and society. In Environmental problems: crossing boundaries between science, policy and society (pp. 17-53).

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