Pope appoints new scientific advisor

 Browsing through the science news yesterday I read that the Pope has appointed a protestant, Swiss microbiologist Werner Arber, as his new Chief Scientific advisor.

The story made the headlines (I imagine) as the Pope has appointed a Protestant, but it was news to me at least that such a position existed.

But I have now learnt that the Vatican’s scientific advisory body, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has existed since 1936 and can trace its roots back to the early 17th century. The academy’s job is to keep the Pope and the church in general up to date with the latest scientific developments and so help it avoid conflict with the world of science.

It consists of 80 distinguished scientists, many of whom are non-catholic and non-religious and many of whom – the new chief included – who have Nobel prizes.

Werner Arber believes the academy is “most effective” when discussing big scientific questions, particularly in cosmology and biological evolution. Although there are a couple of taboo subjects (for example abortion and contraception) he insists there are very few such no-go areas, and that the Pope has recently asked advice regarding tricky subject of the definition of death.

Read more of this scientific institution and its new head here. //Esther Crooks


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