Rebecca Nesbit: Because we like eating cake

Rebecca Nesbit studied butterfly migration at Rothamsted Research for her PhD, which involved using radars and ‘flight simulators’ to work out how Painted Ladies travel between north Africa and the UK. She now blogs at The birds, the bees and feeding the world

Science is important because …. I like cake

Back in the times of hunting and gathering, when wisdom teeth were to replace ones we’d already lost, when food, shelter, firewood and medicine all came from the forest or the plains, science was rather different. We needed to know some engineering to make hunters’ weapons; we needed to understand some biology to know when different plants would be ready to eat.

But now, in the age of farming and medicine and a population of billions of people, when teeth fall out because of eating too much cake, the science we need to survive is rather more detailed. If we want to eat cake, and I certainly do, here are just a few of the many reasons we need science:

Sustainable agriculture - science is essential if we are to produce enough food to feed the world without doing long-term damage to the environment. Maintaining soil fertility, finding new ways to control pests, protecting bees and other pollinators, developing new varieties of crops, and designing effective irrigation and drainage systems are some of the ways that scientific research helps to feed us.

Health - much as I would love to live on cake, our understanding of nutrition helps keep me healthy and improve my quality of life. Food allergies and intolerances prevent some people from eating cakes, but science helps treat their conditions, and provide food they can eat.

Energy - energy is involved at every stage from growing the crops to feeding me the cake - making the fertiliser, harvesting the crop, processing the ingredients, baking, storing, transporting… If that is to continue science needs to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

It’s important that everyone understands science because decisions about how we can make cake in the future shouldn’t just depend on a few scientists, and nor should decisions be made by people who don’t understand them. Decisions such as whether to use GM crops, whether to ban pesticides, whether to put resources into protecting bees, and how to produce the energy we need are everyone’s business. If they’re not made with an understanding of the science behind them we are jeopardising our chance of a sustainable future.

Science helps me understand the world and to make it a better place.

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