I t took national newspapers a long time to give special correspondents to cover scientific and technological issues. The particular Observer was the first within Fleet Street to put that right when the distinguished reporter John Davy was appointed science correspondent by Jesse Astor, in the 1950s – at a time when computing, space vacation, atomic power and other innovations were beginning to make an effect on everyday life.
Davy, and his successors, strongly depicted how these technologies were transforming society, however the advances were not dramatic at that time. In 1982, when I joined up with the paper, the Observer newsroom still lacked fax machines or computers. Because the 80s, however , science and technology have had an speeding up impact on life on Earth – though it has been hard sometimes to forecast with precision what breakthroughs would show the most important.
My revelation, in 1997, that will UK scientists had cloned an adult mammal – Junk the Sheep – led to widespread predictions, which I distributed, that the technology would transform medical science, in particular by causing it possible to use cloned stem cells to treat illness. Twenty years later that promise remains disappointingly distant, even though hopes remain.
By contrast, the impact from the spread of industry, air transport and automobiles appeared fairly harmless in the early 80s. Today, we know extremely differently. Indeed, the biggest science story to have emerged previously three decades has been the growing threat posed by raising emissions of greenhouse gases from our factories and vehicles. Once again, the Observer protected that in depth, appointing the first environment correspondent in Navy Street, Geoffrey Lean.
Our planet faces damage from soaring temperatures, melting ice sheets, rising ocean levels and increased ocean acidification. How this bias of our climate system develops will determine the future of varieties. Science has never been more pertinent.