The patron saint of the British Industrial Revolution was Francis Bacon, the great Elizabethan philosopher and crusading apostle for science. His passionate advocacy of the scientific method and belief in science’s ability to banish superstition – allowing nature to be harnessed for humankind’s betterment – was light years ahead of his time. The Royal Society was founded 34 years after his death as the scientific academy he wanted to create.
Almost every successful Anglo-Saxon inventor and industrialist during the next 250 years – from Benjamin Franklin to Michael Faraday – paid tribute to his inspiration. He was the Enlightenment man before the Enlightenment, and one important reason why the Industrial Revolution started in Britain.
Francis Bacon’s spirit will be sorely lacking in Harpenden today. Take the Flour Back is organising a day of “mass protest” around one small field where researchers from government-funded Rothamsted Research are growing a strain of wheat that resists being eaten by aphids. So far, so good – it could hugely boost wheat yields. The trouble is that this variety of wheat has been developed in a laboratory with scientists blending the seeds’ genes with a gene that gives the wheat a smell that frightens off the insects in a way that could never happen in nature. Take the Flour Back wants the wheat, now a foot tall, uprooted and the threat of its pollen contaminating the surrounding countryside removed. Continue reading