Introduction

Martin Rees

From the Enlightenment, through the Industrial Revolution and into today’s Age of Information, science has been critical to every aspect of our development over the past 350 years – and the Royal Society has been at the forefront of the scientific world throughout that time.

With our Trailblazing website the Society started its anniversary year looking back on scientific achievements and the rapid development of civilisation over the past three and a half centuries. Now, as we come to the end of our anniversary year, we look forward – and the pace of change does not appear to be slowing.

This is the first century when one species, ours, risks irreversibly degrading the entire planet’s environment.  With rising temperatures, an ageing and ever-increasing population, growing pressure on resources and a genuine fear of the evolution of infectious diseases, issues relating to global health and sustainability are high on the scientific agenda. The risks and dangers need to be assessed and then confronted.

But now is not just a time of challenges and adversity: it is also a time for scientific opportunity.  The need to develop ‘clean’ energy, new vaccines and better resources means scientists and national science academies like the Royal Society have a critical role to play over the coming years.

This is also a time for technological advancement and increased understanding. From the growth of the internet through to the mapping of the human genome and our understanding of the human brain, the more we understand, the more there seems to be for us to explore.  At this juncture we must be careful not to play down the importance of science reporting. Public trust and perception are essential to the future of science: it can influence the level of funding, governmental support and the interest of the next generation of potential scientists.

Science has a huge part to play in the development, and the very survival, of humankind in both the near and distant future. As my time as President of the Royal Society comes to a close and our 350th anniversary year ends, the forward looking Science Sees Further is an apt finale - it is an opportunity for us to look at the key scientific issues of today, and those of tomorrow.

  • Download the full Science sees further report.