March 5, 2024


The head of the UK’s Medical Research Council, Oxford professor , has predicted that opposition to embryonic stem cell research by religious absolutists will evaporate as soon as it produces cures for dread diseases. “Morality is… a matter of utilitarian dialectic,” he writes in the 2007 edition of Edge, a website which features answers to burning questions by scientists, journalists and academics. “Yesterday’s moral outrage has a way of becoming today’s necessary evil and tomorrow’s common good.”

He predicts a steady stream of positive news from stem cell research this year — although the single recent development he cites employed adult stem cells. “I predict that the immorality of not helping the undeniably living sick will soon outweigh that of protecting the never-to-be-born,” he writes.

The fascinating collection of crystal-ball-gazing by the great and good in Edge also includes a rosy scenario painted by the science editor of The Daily Telegraph, . He dares to predict that “the public will become immune to hype”. Although this seems even more implausible than finding a cure for cancer next week, Highfield is optimistic. “In the wake of years of hype over the practical significance of gene discoveries, fusion power, magic bullets, superconductivity, gene therapy, cures for ageing, and embryonic stem cells, the public will become more pessimistic about the practical benefits of discoveries made in the lab and more appreciative of what science is really about – basic curiosity, rationality and the never-ending dialogue between ideas and experiments.”