Here's what the professor of the year has to say

Excerpts from a Smithsonian Lecture ''Looking for Values in Science,'' by Mary E. Clark, professor of biology at San Diego State University in California.

''Why do people do science? Why does our society sponsor it?

''First, there's curiosity. Most people who do science are curious. They like to know how things work. Curiosity is how we all, as children, learned about the world. We prodded it, tested it, explored it - all in order to discover how to behave in it.

''A second reason for having science is the wisdom it brings. The study of 'natural laws' allows us to make decisions that are compatible with our surroundings - and hence with our own survival.

''In our modern society, however, it is not primarily to support the curiosity of scientists, nor to seek the wisdom to guide our actions that we underwrite the scientific endeavor so heavily.

''Rather, it is for the power that science gives society that it is so highly prized. Science, and the technology it spawns - provide two kinds of power.

''First there is power or 'mastery' over nature. We have overcome the separation of distance by building cars and airplanes - and the roads and runways needed to operate them.

''The second use we make of science is the power it gives us over others. Perhaps the clearest case in point - and one that clearly threatens our survival - is weapons technology.

''What I shall argue this evening, is that we are paying far too much attention to the power that science gives us, and far too little to the wisdom it has to teach us.

''Clearly it is time - and none too soon - that we begin to seek wisdom to guide and control the power that our science and technology have given us. To some extent that wisdom can come from the science itself.

''Following are some biological laws that must be understood if humankind is to have a future.

* ''The stability of an ecosystem depends on a continuous supply of energy, both for maintenance of life and for recycling nutrients.

* ''No population can long exceed the carrying capacity of its environment without a crash.

* ''Overspecialized species become extinct when circumstances change.

''Until we gain wisdom in our use of science and technology, it may be that the progress of science itself must be interrupted, or at least slowed. It is certainly time to pay serious attention to the wisdom available in the scientific knowledge we already possess.

''About 100 years ago, the senior Oliver Wendell Holmes said: 'Knowledge and timber shouldn't be much used till they are seasoned.'

''We need time to discover and assimilate the wisdom science can teach us before trying to apply the power it gives us. We need to discover a safer, less precarious path into the future.

''Science does have a valuable role to play, if we would but let it.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.