Professor Jack Martin received an honorary doctorate recently from
Australian Catholic University. In his graduation address he sketched the value
of a university education for a critical examination of science and the media.

I congratulate you warmly on this wonderful
day for you all, with most of you graduating in teaching or in nursing. You are
the educated. Your stewardship, your responsibility is to pass on the benefits
of that education to the people you work with and for, and to your families. This
success has come after much effort and sacrifice from you and from your

A fundamental question that applies across the board to ethical questions in science is: In a world where we are capable of doing everything, should we do everything we can do? I think not.

Like you, in being honoured in this way by
the ACU, I have been helped greatly by other people. In the case of medical
science and research, I began with wonderful mentors that I had early in my
career, and have been helped so much by graduate students, research fellows,
technicians and collaborating colleagues. Then in ethics, I learned much from
my late wife, Christine, who made a substantial contribution to thinking and to
discussion of bioethics in Australia. Last and not least, I owe a great deal to
my parents whose top priority, with six children growing through the Depression
of the 1930s and the Second World War, was that we all became university

The task of the University is to educate
people in ways that will equip them to contribute to the common good, the good
of the community. The aim of a University education, in the view of John Henry Cardinal
Newman in the mid-19th century, is not primarily to fit students for this or
that particular profession, but to develop their minds, to be able to exercise
judgment, engage fruitfully in debate and conversation, to interpret what is
happening in society and to bring insights to bear on these events. Although
this idealistic view has been eroded to some extent by modern economic
rationalism, the principle still holds.

Your education at ACU has equipped you with
a certain amount of knowledge, but much more importantly, has given you the
ability to continue learning throughout life, whether in your capacities as
teachers, nurses or whatever else you choose to do. You will develop your own
ideas and reach your own conclusions. These are the benefits you will pass on.
At the ACU also, a Christian ethos has driven the education, encouraging you to
treat all those about you with care, compassion and respect, and to go out into
the world and make a real difference.

My own working life has been in science in
biological sciences that derive from my first degree in medicine, and I plan to
say a little to you today about science. My interests have been in the details
of how the cells of the body develop their special functions and communicate
with each other, and what goes wrong in illness. The type of work that I have
done has inevitably led me to know more and more about less and less — something
that occurs not uncommonly with academics. In doing this I have always been
grateful for my good fortune in seeing the complexity, beauty and co-ordination
of the processes in the living cells of the body. In my case it invigorated a
belief that there must be a higher influence that is ultimately responsible for
this – and such a belief remains entirely consistent with evolution as proposed
by Charles Darwin.

Another view often expressed is that
science understands this complexity more and more, and this process of
revelation really means that science can explain everything. Currently that is
a confrontational topic between religion and science, but there is really no
basis for such confrontation. It is made popular by a number of most strident
publicists, who despite the fact that they believe there is no God, spend an
inordinate time and effort in discussing Him – and it is readily taken up by
the media.

Work such as this inevitably came up with
ethical questions that needed to be considered when embarking upon experiments.
For example, an area of ethics that interested me particularly has been the
question of experimentation on human embryos for the purpose of making
embryonic stem cells.

A fundamental question that applies across
the board to ethical questions in science is: In a world where we are capable of doing everything, should we do
everything we can do? I think not. For the most part, such ethical
questions require little more than sound logic and common sense in resolving
them, but in an increasingly secular society it has become the fashion to
“blame” religion for any constraints put upon the advances that could be made
in science.

I believed that it was not right to
manufacture human embryos for research, but I have used scientific arguments
against this. In fact, that has made the task easier. It was truly astonishing
to see how often very bad science was presented publicly by scientists who
wanted to do such work, and how eagerly this was taken up by media, who almost
invariably, had no understanding of the science.

The result was that a great deal of bad
science won much positive publicity. What is needed to combat that is more
people in the community who are capable of thinking things through and reaching
their own conclusions. It needs logical, thinking people, and your education fits
you to query propositions that are put to you. By no means should you simply
accept as truth the science that is presented to you through the lay press, but
you should work to develop your own coordinated views

In this area of embryonic stem cell research,
eventually a wonderful outcome was achieved in the last five years or so, led
by the work of a young Japanese scientist, who is actually an orthopaedic
surgeon. What Shinya Yamanaka did was genuinely revolutionary. Through trial
and error he arrived at a simple set of genes to add to normal body cells to
make them behave like embryonic stem cells – that is, they were capable of
being changed to any cell in the body. In doing so he overcame the ethical
problems associated with the use of embryonic stem cells, and so has changed
the climate around such work irreversibly. He had embarked upon this work
because he felt that it was not right to use embryos for research, and set
about seeking an alternative in a positive way.

There are very many areas of our future
development that will be influenced by scientific advances — not just in
medicine, but in agriculture, nutrition, climate control, ecology, fuel
resources. The list is long. Science will produce new industries and jobs, and
will enable us to tackle seemingly intractable social and environmental
problems. With these will certainly come ethical questions, and you as the
educated, need to be prepared for this.

The community needs to be much more capable
of questioning and understanding science — and with questioning comes
understanding. Only rarely do scientists explain their work in the lay press in
ways that are easy to understand and authentic. It’s up to the community to
press for this with its questioning, and you, as the educated, particularly in
professions such as teaching and nursing, are people that we will be relying on
to lead the way.

So, am I saying you should all become
scientists? No, I am not. But it would be wrong to be afraid of science. Don’t
be afraid that science is too complicated, that you couldn’t possibly
understand. That is most certainly not so. A large mass of scientific facts is
not needed, but you as educated people are capable of analysing facts that come
to you. Generally speaking, the amount of knowledge we acquire is sufficient:
what is more important is to make our own synthesis of that knowledge.

If I were to finish with a message it would
be – don’t leave science to the scientists, and certainly not to the media.
Don’t have them tell you what is good for you. Make them accountable, and you,
as educated people in your professions, can be constructive critics and
analysts by collecting the necessary facts, identifying errors in logic, and
looking for the truth. You as teachers or as nurses, can be bridges to the

That would be a wonderful outcome of this
special education that you have received.

Jack Martin is one of Australia’s most
distinguished medical scientists. He is emeritus professor of medicine at the
University of Melbourne and was director of St Vincent’s Institute of Medical