6th October 2000 at 01:00
There is a place in this world untouched by new age morality - where opposing forces fight tooth and nail for meagre advantage; unholy hell-pits where deadly chemicals burn the eyes of innocent young men whose interest in science is fired only by the explosive potential of misunderstood compounds.

I have seen this place in all its horror. I have stood in the doorway of the prep room and watched the lower set Year 10s, their faces contorted like manic chimpanzees, wait for the science teacher to turn his back before squirting pipettes of sodium hydroxide across the laboratory. We must forgive them for they know not what they do.

Rubbish. They know exactly what they are doing. The future of science is in trouble. Not from the upper echelons, the achievers, the top sets. Not from the scientific underclass, the scientifically challenged, the bottom sets. Science is in trouble because of the average pupil. Not those who don't understand, but those who don't want to.

Abuse of science starts early in the lives of these socially challenged creatures. They are only too happy to enjoy the fruits of scientific advance. Their lives are overflowing with unrestricted access to computers, videos, the Internet, mobile phones.They do not appreciate these things with which science has embroidered the modern world. They take them for granted. Little surprise then that they treat education with such disdain. All that learning gets in the way of their lives, which they seem determined to enjoy. And if they are forced to endure irrelevant learning, why shouldn't thy entertain themselves?

I do not expect every pupil to be interested in science. I am merely a technician and will leave such fantasies to the teachers. But such a fundamental subject, which affects so much of our lives, and has been deemed relevant enough to be compulsory at some level before 16, does at least deserve respect. That is not the real problem though.

Science is not the only faith. There have always been the enlightened and the unenlightened, scientifically or otherwise. But, traditionally, the unenlightened pupils have tended to be uninterested. Now they prefer to be disruptive, destructive, and dangerous. These pupils are the future. They're the pro-active drop-outs who know exactly what's expected of them, but couldn't care less. The only worthwhile opportunity they perceive in science is the chance to steal magnesium ribbon and set fire to it on the bus. They choose to behave the way they do and they know it's wrong.

Of course science, like any other subject, becomes self-selective beyond a point. The disenchanted reactionaries, however abundant, eventually dissolve into the acid of real learning. The future of science is left to the less disenchanted, the more stable elements. But at what cost? The next generation of scientists will not merely have to do better than their peers, they will have to survive them. And to do that, they will have to be impervious to the increasingly popular opinion that science is boring. This is, of course, unlikely.

Jonathan Forbes is a science technician in Petersfield, Hampshire

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