PM urges society: Choose science over conspiracies, convenience

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley -
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley -

The Prime Minister is urging all sectors of society to recognise the importance of scientific research in guiding the public's response to an emergency.

Dr Rowley made the remarks during his feature address at the Daaga Auditorium, University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, campus on Wednesday night at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Seismic Research Centre.

The ceremony also honoured Rowley as the first Caribbean-born scientist to be appointed head of the centre.

Recalling his time as a geologist working for the centre in different parts of the Caribbean, Rowley said while academia had a responsibility to provide scientific data to guide authorities, policy-makers and the public also had a responsibility to respond to evidence of an impending disaster.

He said pure science was not partisan and should be given greater attention than baseless conspiracies.

Referring to a public lecture he delivered while working as a researcher in Montserrat years ago, Rowley said he advised the authorities at the time not to invest in rebuilding the capital Plymouth, but was not heeded.

"The subject of my lecture then was telling the authorities in Montserrat that they shouldn't spend that money in Plymouth because it would be wasted.

"And the following day I got a visit from the permanent secretary (who) was in the lecture and he said, 'You know we heard what you said yesterday, but we can't tell the people of Montserrat that. Plymouth is our capital and the business community wouldn't like that.'

"The next time I was in Plymouth was part of a team that was viewing the end of Plymouth, which even today has not been opened.

"The entire city was destroyed except for one or two things like the bank and all the money that was spent building it was lost."

Rowley warned that even when sufficient evidence of a threat is available, it may be "limited or buried" by proponents of a preferred view which placed society at a disadvantage.

He also stressed the importance of academia in developing an informed society and lamented that the UWI had "fallen" from its mission in scientific research.

Rowley said there were a lot of opportunities and topics that could be discussed to and explored by academics to developing society.

"A University that has its pedigree in the great work done in research as the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture cannot be satisfied with professorial or senior staff CVs dominated by column inches of questionable opinionated expressions in the local daily or Sunday papers.

"There are hundreds of areas of stimulating research to be explored and published.

"Such publications and edification stimulated by collection and analysis of data in every field, from construction to diet, from land use to pollution levels, from ageing to introduction of species, can do wonders for decision making at every level of the society, from government to small entrepreneur."

He also warned that volcanoes that were still active could erupt again, noting that academics had the duty to warn governments of a possible disaster.

He said there was also the possibility that such predictions were wrong.

"The question is whose call is it going to be to tell an entire city to move and move now because the threat is looming bright.

"In those circumstances where seismic operates talking to governments there is no amelioration to the threat, the only sensible reaction is to get out and to get out in time.

"And one of the hazards for us scientists advising governments is what if you make them get out and nothing happens?"

"But of course I told you what happened in Plymouth, when we know better we should do better, but doing better is sometimes hard to do.

"We should not continue to grow population centres with known disaster waiting to happen to potentially, although it continues to happen in the industrialised world."

In spite of these challenges Rowley commended the work of the Seismic Research Centre in providing a valuable service to the wider Caribbean region.

Also attending the ceremony was campus principal and UWI pro-vice chancellor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine who commended Rowley for his work as a geologist and academic.

"Dr Rowley's journey is one that exemplifies the transformative power of education and the unwavering pursuit of knowledge.

"Fully trained by the University of the West Indies, his achievements stands as a beacon illuminating the path of excellence for future generations."

Chancellor of the UWI Robert Bermudez said he looked forward to future visits from Rowley to the UWI, describing the university as his "academic cradle."


"PM urges society: Choose science over conspiracies, convenience"

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