LETTER: 'Science is necessarily a work in progress'

PUBLISHED: 17:19 06 February 2016

In your January 21st edition, Westwell of Ely seems to think that the discovery of a new black hole is one in the eye for 'experts'.

Who are these ‘experts’, pray? Perhaps she would care to cite a source where it was stated that there’s no possibility of another such object. Science is necessarily a work in progress: sometimes it goes up a wrong alley (phlogiston comes to mind) but it’s self-correcting in the long run.

Nobody has ever said that we’ve dotted all the ‘Is’ and crossed all the ‘Ts’ in our understanding of the universe. Dogmatic absolute certainty is the dubious prerogative of the lunatic fringe which brings discredit to some religions.

Speaking of the tragic outcome of the recent French drug tests, Westwell asks if we’ve learned nothing from thalidomide. Yes we certainly have - we’ve learned that tests on animals - leaving aside any questions of morality - simply do not suffice to prove a drug is safe.

That leaves the difficult question of how drugs are to be tested. Cease the search for new drugs? Try them on an uninformed patient at the GP’s surgery? After you, Westwell. Test them on consenting, fully informed volunteers under carefully controlled conditions? Nobody denies the risks, or shrugs off the recent disaster, but I suspect that it may be the best we can do.

It may be that Westwell’s understanding of statins has sprung from a study of medical specialist periodicals, doubtless hedged with caveats, ifs and buts. It is also possible that they have come from the panacea-a-day headlines (hmm: my fingers typed ‘headlies’) of the Daily Express or similar source.

COLIN ATTENBOROUGH

Via email

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