The Sixth Form were lucky enough to have Robert Winston giving us our weekly lecture. He gave a presentation which covered a wide range of topics but with the primary focus on human genetic manipulation, and the concerns around this.

 The esteemed scientist - Edward Chaplin, Year 12
Receiving wisdom - Edward Chaplin, Year 12

He began his talk by showing us some medieval art, depicting some people with genetically inherited diseases as sub-human in various paintings of the passion of Christ. He was saying how humans have been obsessed with genetics and the idea of being ‘fully’ human for a very long time. Lord Winston then went on to Eugenics and how this idea was responsible for the forced sterilisation of people across the world, including America where it gained significant acceptance, and was part of the Nazi ideology. This led to the point that the world is still a very unstable and prejudiced place today, with the likes of Trump gaining widespread popularity, and his concerns over the use of genetic manipulation in this environment.

He then went on to discuss the actual importance of genetics and inheritance in people’s attributes. He said there is no real evidence to suggest that there is a particularly significant genetic component in intelligence, using musical ability as an example of this. He also mentioned the hype that surrounded the human genome project in the year 2000, and how sequencing the human genome was said to be ‘more significant than the invention of the wheel’. Lord Winston said that if this was the case then ‘the wheel hasn’t turned very far’ since it is proving to be very hard to predict anything, even relatively simple things as diseases, using genetics. He then went on to say how the environment and education are far more important factors and also how teamwork is so important in making scientific progress and discoveries.

Throughout the entire lecture Winston kept bringing back the importance of science literacy, especially in democracies like the United Kingdom. He said how with the very rapid progress of science today it is critical that people are in a position to be able to effectively assess its risks and their use of it. He brought this to a focus at the end when he said how human gene editing is an issue that we will have to face and that science literacy is of paramount importance to ensure the best decisions are made.