Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College, London. He served for five years as Chairman of COPUS, the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.
Wolpert has been a faithful standby for the media for more than 20 years as a denouncer of ideas that he suspects are tainted with mysticism or the paranormal. On the other hand, in the context of genetic engineering, he is a fervent believer in free enquiry. “I regard it as ethically unacceptable and impractical to censor any aspect of trying to understand the nature of our world.” (Nobel Website, June 29, 2000).
In 1994, as a member of the BBC Science Consultative Committee, he tried to stop BBC Television from making a six part series on scientific “heretics”, as he revealed in the Sunday Times (July 3, 1994). “This is an absurd series. The whole way these programmes are being presented just fills me with rage. It’s a grotesque distortion. It’s disgusting. It’s just sensational anti-science, and anti-science is the rationalization for ignorance”. Wolpert’s most memorable aphorism was “Open minds are empty minds”.
In 2001, in a programme about a series of controlled telepathy experiments on the Discovery Channel, broadcast in the US on August 31, 2001, he proclaimed that “There is no evidence for any person, animal, or thing being telepathic”. He did not examine the evidence, presented in the same programme, about which he was being interviewed. He is an old-style dogmatic skeptic, and seems entirely unaware of numerous scientific studies that seem to show that that telepathy actually exists.
In January 2004 he took part in a public debate on telepathy with Rupert Sheldrake at the Royal Society of Arts in London, with a high court judge in the chair. According to a report on the debate in the scientific journal Nature, “few members of the audience seemed to be swayed by his [Wolpert’s] arguments…. Many in the audience… variously accused Wolpert of ‘not knowing the evidence’ and being ‘unscientific’.” You can hear the debate online by clicking here, read the text here, or read the Nature report (Debate online, RSA text, Report from Nature).
Photo credit: Lewis Wolpert