Science

Brian May: Beware the cult of science

By Oliver Smith 8 February 2018
Image: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic.
Summary

The lead guitarist of Queen has a warning.

You may know him as the lead guitarist of Queen, but Brian May CBE is also an avid 3D photographer, an outspoken animal welfare activist and a qualified astrophysicist.

Encouraged by his father to be an aeronautical scientist and engineer, May – now 70 – pursued his passion for science and space, earning a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College in 2007.

But as well as being an avid fan of science, today he’s also a fierce critic of the cult of science.

The cult of science

“I think there’s a terrible danger that science is regarded as a religion by some people,” May tells The Memo speaking at the launch of Starmus V, Europe’s festival of science and art.

He points to a growing doctrine that says science mustn’t be questioned, and are always forces for good, regardless.

His comments echo the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk who have called for scientific research into artificial intelligence to be reined in – lest we trigger a robot uprising.

Even technology entrepreneurs are guilting of believing their own cult of technology, like Uber’s Travis Kalanick who believed that breaking locals laws was justified by the ends, and Mark Zuckerberg who refused to accept his social network caused any harm on humanity.

“Science does not give you answers,” the softly-spoken May says.

“Science is a journey of discovery and asking even more questions, it never ends.”

Under pressure

The rise of robotics might be one area where you’d expect the rock star to be critical – given fears that robots could one day steal our jobs – but here he’s staunchly confident in humanity’s ability to adapt.

“You can’t be a luddite, people will find different jobs, and perhaps they’ll be better jobs,” says May.

“But it will be a painful adjustment, and we need to be conscious of this and take care of people as this transition takes place.”

However, he’s less confident in our ability to travel to other worlds, despite Elon Musk’s insistence that SpaceX will take humans to Mars by 2022.

“I don’t think we’ll put another man on the moon in the next five years, and we won’t get to Mars, that’s my opinion of the risks… but I could be wrong.”

Back down to earth

For now, the 70-year-old is more focused on putting his energies towards more earthly challenges.

“I’m more excited about making our world a better place,” May explains.

“I’ve spend a lot of my time campaigning to get animals recognised as sentient creatures and worthy of our respect, not just as populations but as individuals.”

Not a bad lesson for all of humanity to learn before we set off for the stars.