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Autobiographies and Public Understanding

The review of my book A Life in Science (The Scientist, November 17, 1986, p. 23) leads me to remember other autobiographies I have enjoyed, including that of Max Born showing how little help he got in the German universities before 1914 and that of my friend Rudolf Peierls on the role he played in the Manhattan Project. I think that many of us in the scientific community, who know and respect our colleagues, are fascinated to know what they think about themselves. An important question, however

By | January 12, 1987

The review of my book A Life in Science (The Scientist, November 17, 1986, p. 23) leads me to remember other autobiographies I have enjoyed, including that of Max Born showing how little help he got in the German universities before 1914 and that of my friend Rudolf Peierls on the role he played in the Manhattan Project. I think that many of us in the scientific community, who know and respect our colleagues, are fascinated to know what they think about themselves.

An important question, however, is can our autobiographies increase the public's understanding of science? The lack of understanding gives concern both in your country and mine; television and public lectures are pressed into service to correct it. I do not know whether autobiographies can help, though I hope so. I tried in my book to confine the technical parts to two chapters. The most encouraging remark I received about the book is that it revealed such pleasure in a life of science that it ought to be put into the hands of every hesitant high-school pupil.

The November 17 issue also contains two very interesting pages on science and religion, in particular the threat to scientific education posed by the creationists. A considerable part of my book describes my reactions when, already in my fifties, I first came in close contact with the Christian faith. I conclude that scientific truth and religious truth are quite different things, and that it is possible to worship in a Christian church without accepting as literal truth all that one hears. As theologian Hans Kung would say, doctrine must be interpreted, but one cannot dismiss all the history of Christianity because it may not be scientifically true.

-Sir Nevill Mott
63 Mount Pleasant, Aspley Guise
Milton Keynes, Cambridge, England

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