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Science & Human Dimension Project

The Science and Human Dimension Project (SHDP) is a public understanding of science, medicine and ethics programme based at Jesus College, Cambridge . Through conferences and lectures, the project brings together academics and other experts with people from the media - publishers, journalists, and producers - to deepen and broaden their appreciation of new ideas and discoveries in science.

The SHDP also broadens its scope to address ethical and religious questions, such as the controversy over human embryonic stem cell research, and the media coverage of ethics and faiths. At times we are intent on tackling subjects illustrative of knowledge purely for its own sake. The meetings are a means of achieving outreach from the university, the seminar room and the laboratory, to the media and to a wider non-specialist public. Conference proceedings are published by SHDP, Oxford University Press and Continuum.

Previous participants and speakers include:

Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and Master, Trinity College, Cambridge
Dr Oliver Sacks, MD, Physician, author, neurologist
Gerald Edelman, biologist and Nobel Prize Winner
Sir Francis Crick OM FRS, biologist and Nobel Prize Winner
Sydney Brenner, biologist and Nobel Prize Winner
Freeman Dyson, physicist
Sir Anthony Kenny, philosopher
Professor Lewis Wolpert, CBE FRS FRSL, developmental biologist
John Searle, philosopher
George Steiner, philosopher and critic
Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS, mathematical physicist
Professor Peter Atkins, chemist and author
Alasdair MacIntyre, moral philosopher, University of Notre Dame
William Keegan, The Observer
Neal Ascherson, The Observer
Ed Stourton, BBC
A.N.Wilson, author
Professor Ben Pimlott, historian
Brian Appleyard, journalist
John Naughton, Professor of Public Understanding of Technology, The Open University
Marina Warner, author
Michael Frayn, playwright and novelist
David Lodge, novelist
Mary Midgely, philosopher
Professor John Barrow FRS, physicist and mathematician
Professor Roger Schank, elearning pioneer
Professor Margaret Boden OBE, congnitive scientist and philosopher
John Polkinghorne, KBE FRS, physicist and priest
Paul Churchland and Patrician Churchland, neurobiologists
George Brock, Professor of Journalism, City University, former Foreign Editor, The Times
Abd al-Bari Atwan Editor, Al-Quds Al-Arabi Newspaper
Margaret Hill, Chief Adviser, Editorial Policy, BBC
Sir Peter Lachmann,FRS, Emeritus Professor of Immunology, Cambridge University
Tom Heneghan, Religions Editor, Reuters
John Lloyd, Director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University
Christine Morgan, Executive Producer, BBC Religion and Ethics
Julius Lipner, Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion, Cambridge University
Andrew Brown, Editor, Comment is Free: Belief, The Guardian
Janet Soskice, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Cambridge University
Edward Stourton , journalist and presenter, BBC
John Thompson, Professor of Sociology, Cambridge University
John Vidal, The Guardian


The Science and Human Dimension Project is not for profit and actively seeks sponsorship of its activities. Sponsors of previous conferences include Nature, the New Scientist, the Wellcome Trust, and Chiroscience Ltd.

SHDP's new website can be found here .

Past Programme

Science - The Next Generation
11 May 2011
Conference Overview
This one-day meeting on Wednesday May 11, 2011 (in association with City University Journalism School and BlueSci) brought together a group of young scientists to discuss the problems and constraints, the scope and potential, of careers in science journalism at a time of rapid media change and challenge. The structure of the meeting was designed to promote an exchange of viewpoints and a sharing of experiences. Each segment was be introduced briefly by two seasoned practitioners: followed by open-floor discussion. The proceedings will be available for dissemination to schools of journalism and the wider public.

The Irrelevance of Ethics
Lecture by Alasdair MacIntyre
The Science & Human Dimension Project - Prospect Magazine Lecture
On 3 June 2010 Professor Alasdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue and some thirty books on ethics, gave a lecture sponsored by the Science & Human Dimension Project and Prospect magazine. The text of the article John Cornwell wrote for Prospect magazine’s October 2010 issue on the lecture and its background is available here.

Ethics and the Media in an Era of Complex Moral Challenge
23 February 2010
Conference Overview
The Science & Human Dimension Project held a round-table workshop for an exchange of views on media coverage of ethical and religious issues, and to discuss the launch of a forum for ethics in the public space called Ethicscope. A constituency of leading journalists, ethicists and representatives of different faiths discussed the access, fairness, balance and quality of ethical perspectives in print, radio, TV, photojournalism and online media. Our aim ultimately was to explore ways in which media practitioners at every level can develop and enhance their ethical insights and presentation of issues. This meeting occured at a time when the domains of politics, medical science, business, economics, the environment, social and human rights, face increasingly complex and unprecedented choices and judgments. At the same time, the world’s leading faiths are experiencing mounting challenges and scrutiny from secular and pluralist standpoints. The proceedings of this meeting are available here.

God and the Philosophers
Conference 2008
Public interest in religious debate has recently been fed by a series of books of popular polemic against theism, religion and the discipline of theology itself. A small industry has grown up around these works - by authors such as Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. Philosophers, theologians convened to debate and reflect on their attitudes to religion and the status and sources of their various religious and spiritual sympathies, their secularism or agnosticism. Speakers included Sir Anthony Kenny, Michael McGhee, and Nicholas Lash.

Ethics of Human Embryo Research
Conference 2007
Following the EU’s granting of funding for human embryonic stem cell research in July 2006, some declared the arguments and debate against it, over whilst others thought it had barely begun. The aim of this conference was to explore the meaning of the term soul within the Judaic-Christian tradition to test the strength of the Cartesian idea which is often taken for granted in the ethical debate: as in a human being is “ensouled” at the moment of conception.

Report on Media and Development in Africa: A Case Study based on North Kenya
Conference 2006
This conference explored the media coverage of development and aid in Africa. Senior Kenyan development workers discussed poverty, development and the media with specialists from NGOs, the Department for International Development, charities, development academics, and journalists.

Creativity and Depression
Symposium 2005
There has long been a notion that creativity and imagination are associated with forms of depression and even psychosis. This conference explored a wide-ranging approach to the topic, including literary, historical, and psychiatric perspectives.

The discussion focused particularly on the way in which depression is reported in the media as well biographically and autobiographically.

The Anthropic Principle and the Multiverse
Debate 2007
Physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne and Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, tackled the notion of the anthropic principle - the existence of numerical accidents in the Universe that were essential for the development of life.

“Copenhagen”: Science, War, and the Devil’s Pact
Conference 2002
The conference explored the ethics of science, using as a focus Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen which was staged at the conference with Michael Frayn fielding questions. Mark Walker and Paul Lawrence Rose spoke directly to the German historical and biographical background of Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. Other speakers included Walter Gratzer, Lewis Wolpert, Henning Grunwald and John Naughton.

Virtual Universities
Conference 2001
The growth in the use of the internet and related technologies for teaching and learning brought together a variety of distance and e-learning specialists from Europe, and the United States, working mainly in the fields of publishing and tertiary level education

Explanations: Styles of Explanation in Science
Conference 2000
This meeting brought together philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, and anthropologists to discuss why explanations work, why they vary between disciplines, periods, and cultures, and to discover whether they have any necessary boundaries. The issues engaged the keen interest of the participants from the media, for it is in journalism that the notion of an explanation is often misused or misunderstood. Speakers included Peter Atkins, Sir Martin Rees, Peter Lipton, Colin McGinn and Juliet Mitchell.

Consciousness and Human Identity
Conference 1997
Consciousness has puzzled philosophers, naturalists, and theologians down the ages. Now it has caught the interest of contemporary scientists, some of whom believe they are on the brink of discovering its basis in neurobiological processes. This meeting of neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, theologians and novelists, discussed the prospects and consequences for finding a scientific explanation of consciousness. Speakers included Margaret Boden, John Searle, Steven Rose, Mary Midgely, Jeremy Butterfield, Peter Lipton and David Lodge.

The Next Generation
Conference 1996
The Science and Human Dimension Project brought twenty four young scientists together to discuss the future of their disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, computer science, and medicine.This meeting was supported by Wellcome Trust, Chiroscience Ltd, and the New Scientist.

Science and the Media
Conference 1995
This specialist forum for participants from the science media was convened to discuss current issues of interest and concern. Speakers included Nigel Hawkes of The Times, John Maddox of Nature, Ravi Mirchandani of Penguin¸ Alun Anderson of the New Scientist and Duncan Dallas of Café Scientifique. The meeting was sponsored by Nature.

Plato and Mathematics
Symposium 1994
Logicians and philosophers of mathematics discussed the mathematical Platonism with Penelope Maddy, Michael Redhead, Tim Smiley, Jeremy Butterfield, and Peter Smith. Is mathematics created by the mind or does it have an extra-mental existence, and what are the implications for philosophy?

Sir Francis Crick on Scientific Search for the Soul
Lecture 1994
Nobel Prize winner Sir Francis Crick discussed his book The Astonishing Hypothesis in which he argues that explanations for human higher order consciousness are best studied from the “bottom up”.

Mathematical Education
Symposium 1993
A group of world-class mathematicians, scientists, and professors of mathematical education explored the role of mathematics in different academic disciplines.

Reductionism’s Primacy in the Natural Sciences
Conference 1992
This conference brought together world class neuroscientists, mathematicians, physicists, philosophers, psychiatrists, biologists, engineers, publishers and journalists to discuss to what extent reductionist method is shaping, and “reducing”, psychology, social studies, and even the humanities? Speakers included Nobel Prize Winner Gerald Edelman, Oliver Sacks, Freeman Dyson, Roger Penrose, John D Barrow, Paul M. Churchland, Patricia Churchland, Mary Midgely, and Peter Atkins.

Sir Martin Rees
Gerald Edelman
Sir Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, and Nobel Prize Winner Gerald Edelman, both speakers at Science & Human Dimension Project conferences
Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks, speaker at the SHDP Reductionism's Primacy in the Natural Sciences Conference

Speakers at previous SHDP conferences and lectures
Sir Anthony Kenny
George Steiner
Sir Anthony Kenny, former President, British Academy and George Steiner, philosopher and critic
Michael Frayn
Bryan Appleyard
Michael Frayn, author and Bryan Appleyard, journalist
Lewis Wolpert
Marina Warner
Lewis Wolpert,Professor of Biology, UCL, and Marina Warner, novelist
Freeman Dyson
A.N. Wilson
Freeman Dyson, physicist, and A.N. Wilson, author
Upper Hall Jesus College Cambridge
Upper Hall, Jesus College, venue for conferences
Dining Hall from Cloister Court, Jesus College, Cambridge
The Dining Hall, from Cloister Court, Jesus College, Cambridge
Sir Peter Lachmann
Sir Peter Lachmann FRS, Emeritus Professor of Immunology, Cambridge University

Julius Lipner
Julius Lipner, Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion,Cambridge University
Martin Moore
Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust
Christine Morgan
Christine Morgan, Executive Producer, BBC Religion and Ethics Radio
Abd al-Bari Atwan
Abd al-Bari Atwan, Editor, Al-Quds Al-Arabi
Tom Heneghan Reuters
Tom Heneghan, Religions Editor, Reuters