'The play's the thing...'

Nicholas Russell, professor and director of the Science Communication Group at Imperial College London, discusses what scientists can learn from playwright Henrik Ibsen

Nicholas Russell
Jul 20, 2006
Scientists do not always work in a vacuum, and many encounter trouble when they bring their scientific findings or perspective to the general public. One might not think to look for insight into 21st century public science policy in the works of the long-departed Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), but his drama A Public Enemy teaches some interesting lessons -- even if they are not necessarily the ones that Ibsen intended.This play, in which a scientist uncovers a public health crisis, demonstrates that science needs careful handling when applied in wider political and social contexts. Sometimes, it takes a story to make this clear. And scientists interested in engaging the public to effect policy changes -- such as those working on global warming or GM crops -- have much to learn from this fictional lesson.In A Public Enemy (1882), Ibsen's hero is Dr. Stockmann, the Medical Officer for the Municipal...

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