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Francis Bacon, Where Art Thou?

The recent protests in the UK over genetically modified wheat illustrate an important point, says The Observer's Will Hutton — it's time to take a Victorian attitude towards science and start trusting scientists again. Francis Bacon, "patron saint of the British Industrial Revolution," was a philosopher and a "crusading apostle for science," Hutton says. In Victorian England, people embraced science wholeheartedly and now when society should be even more enlightened, people protest instead. "Today, I wonder how a work as ground-breaking as Darwin's would be received," Hutton says. "[The GM wheat protestors] would accuse him of being the slave of corporate interests set on unleashing dangerous new methods to lift agricultural productivity. Animal Rights protesters would say that the voyage of the Beagle was predicated on inhuman experimentation on animals. The Tea Party movement and religious fundamentalists would try to ban him from entering the US. Islamic fundamentalists would doubtless issue a fatwa."

That is not to say, he adds, that scientific advancements don't come with moral and ethical dilemmas, nor that some scientists don't sometimes take their work too far. But it's time to "rediscover the Baconian tradition" and use public argument and debate to work out those ethical issues, Hutton says.

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