Science and Humanity in the Twenty-First Century
by Sir Joseph Rotblat
1995 Nobel Laureate in Peace*
6 September 1999
The twentieth century saw more momentous change than any previous century: change for better, change for worse; change that brought enormous benefits to human beings, change that threatens the very existence of the human species. Many factors contributed to this change but - in my opinion - the most important factor was the progress in science.
Academic research in the physical and biological sciences has vastly broadened our horizons; it has given us a deep insight into the structure of matter and of the universe; it has brought better understanding of the nature of life and of its continuous evolution. Technology - the application of science - has made fantastic advances that have affected us beneficially in nearly every aspect of life: better health, more wealth, less drudgery, greater access to information.
The continuation of such activities in the twenty-first century will result in an even greater boon to humanity: in pure science - a wider and deeper knowledge in all spheres of learning; in applied science - a more equitable distribution of material benefits, and better protection of the environment.
Sadly, however, there is another side to the picture. The creativity of science has been employed to the detriment of mankind. The application of science and technology to the development and manufacture of weapons of mass destruction has created a real threat to the continued existence of the human race on this planet. We have seen this happen in the case of nuclear weapons. Although their actual use in combat has so far occurred only in 1945 - when two Japanese cities were destroyed - during the four decades of the Cold War, obscenely huge arsenals of nuclear weapons were accumulated and made ready for use. The arsenals were so large that if the weapons had actually been detonated the result could have been the complete...