The Ratchet of Science – Curiosity Killed the Cat

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Sir Roy Y. Calne – Department of Medicine and Surgery, National University of Singapore, Cambridge, UK

Series: World Philosophy
BISAC: SCI034000

Once science is published and archived in a Ratchet manner, there is no delete button.

Science, like the universe, is expanding and accelerating. This book outlines the many gifts that science has bestowed upon our quality of life ranging from health, travel and communication, but it also raises concerns about the sometimes awful consequences of science. These may be accidental and unanticipated, or deliberate, as with the development of new weapons that carry dreadful potential. After the Second World War, a chasm separated the regimes of the East and West, and the possibility that the world was heading towards a catastrophic atomic conflict was a serious worry. Science has a responsibility for its consequences, even if these are not anticipated. In view of the history of science and our current relationship with scientific advances, it would be prudent to attempt a continuing peaceful dialogue to avoid future confrontation.

For the writing of this book, the author made many in-depth studies of correspondence between scientists and philosophers, including, most notably, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, at Churchill College Archives in Cambridge.

Table of Contents


Gustav Born


Chapter 1 – Pugwash and Bombmaking (pp. 1-10)

Chapter 2 – Historical Background (pp. 11-46)

Chapter 3 – Human Nature (pp. 47-60)

Chapter 4 – Brave New World; 1984 Huxley and Orwell; Surveillance and Control of Individuals by the State (pp. 61-74)

Chapter 5 – Medical Science (pp. 75-92)

Chapter 6 – Disregard of the Sanctity and Value of Life (pp. 93-100)

Chapter 7 – The Sky is the Limit: Rockets and Cosmology (pp. 101-108)

Chapter 8 – The Next Phase (pp. 109-110)



Author Contact Information


“Roy Calne is a pioneering surgeon of international stature. He is also a witty, scrupulous writer. In “The Ratchet of Science” he inquiries into the ambiguous blessings of medical-scientific progress. Drawing on the wide spectrum of fundamental and technical advances, Calne points to the social, human cost which these entail. The calm, at time ironic analyses which he presents make this little book a classic. It deserves the widest possible read ship.” As published in The Times Literary Supplement by George Steiner, Literary Critic, Essayist, Philosopher, Novelist, and Educator

“This excellent book, written by the distinguished surgeon, Roy Calne, deserves a wide readership. It describes clearly and concisely the huge scientific advances throughout history and reflects on the good and the evil consequences of discoveries. Due to the worrying nature of human beings, each ratchet, or step forward in our knowledge is too often accompanied by dangerous applications. The theme of the book is that knowledge, once established by a reliable scientific method, cannot be unlearned. The cat is out of the bag and the curiosity may kill the cat. The introduction tells of the young physicist, Lise Meitner who discovered and named nuclear fission. Appalled by the later harnessing of nuclear fission to produce a weapon for mass murder, she then refused to have anything to do with the atomic bomb project. The book deals with the idea that whereas the history of science moves forwards, the same cannot necessarily be said for the behaviour of mankind, thus echoing the words of Martin Luther King, ‘we live in an age of guided missiles and misguided men’. It is a fascinating thought-provoking story.”Sara Woodall

“I have greatly enjoyed reading this manuscript. If other readers are like me they will be stimulated to go back to your sources and read in depth on those of the subjects you have covered that pique their interest. In my medical school years the graduates used to be given a copy of Osler’s Aquinimitas, a collection of aphorisms and observations on life and medicine which is now of course outdated. This book would be a more than suitable successor.” Allan MacDonald, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

“A fascinating read exploring some of the philosophical implications of science in its quest for advancement and consequential darker sides. Thoroughly recommended.” T. Woodall

“This slim volume is highly deceptive. Written in an engaging and often gently ironic style, it offers impressively well considered comments on the advantages and disadvantages of scientific progress. But be warned – the subtitle reads- Curiosity Killed the Cat! 5 star.” George Newlands, FRSE, Glasgow, UK

<a href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>American Journal of Transplantation</a> – <strong>Reviewed by A. D. Kirk, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC

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