Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell
Do public authorities respect Human Rights?
As a university we accept speakers with a radical view, but we draw the line at the point of incitement to hatred or violence or when they can be in breach of the laws of the land.
Are agnostics proportionately represented in Parliament?
I wouldn’t necessarily know and I don’t need to know. I think the belief of my MP is irrelevant, I think it is their principles, rather than their adherence to a particular religion that is important.
Any challenges to living in accordance with your faith? If so, are they social, legal or political in nature?
I can see that to some it may be considered that an atheist MP might not uphold the Christian principles of the United Kingdom. To me, atheists can uphold those principles just as well, without being religious.
Are there any social or political issues which you have felt so strongly about that you have wanted to challenge them?
I restrict challenges to my areas of expertise. So, around universities, around science, etc, I challenge on investment in science. I challenge on certain principles (e.g. regulation on genetically modified… legislation on science), but I have kept it to my areas of expertise.
Do your beliefs require you to speak out for the vulnerable?
I don’t think religion has complete ownership of moral positions. I think most people, religious or not, have strong moral views.
I have spoken about persecution of scientists and of an organisation called CARO, which brings refugees scientists in, which I support, but I have kept it to science, rather than more widely.
Are there any legal rules which you find restrictive?
In making concessions to some religious groups, others feel they do not receive an equal treatment. One example that I have come across several times is that some religions have priority for the post-mortem analysis, and that means that others who do not profess that religion wait longer.
The religious principles in the UK, mainly based on Christianity, are good principles: the principle that you treat others the way you would like to be treated, everybody is equal – but you can say that without referring to God.
I don’t feel there is anything imposed on others, as it happens in other countries. Interestingly, as a comparator, a colleague of mine from Wisconsin, in the United States, moved to the local village and everyone stopped speaking to his family. When he asked why, he was told that they hadn’t attended Church. I can’t imagine that would happen in the United Kingdom. I was born in a small village where the Church was important, but there were no questions about whether or not you had gone to church.
Do you see a conflict between religion and science?
I know many, many outstanding scientists who are religious. I have difficulties understanding that, firstly from an emotional point of view, because to me being a scientist you base on conclusions on evidence rather than emotion. But on the other hand, it was put to me ‘what evidence do you need about loving somebody? It is an emotion’. So, I accept that.
There is one question, which is how far can a multi-religious society adapt to individual religious requirements. For example, our holidays are traditionally Christian, but we face challenges. In a few years’ time the exam period will fall in Ramadan – that is going to create serious problems for us. How many exceptions do we make? Ramadan? Jewish holidays? We cannot accommodate all requests within a multi-cultural society, and you need to put some constraints on it. That is a challenge, that is difficult.
Nancy Rothwell is President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester and Professor of Physiology.
Nancy obtained a first class degree in Physiology in 1976, a PhD in 1978 and a DSc in 1987 from the University of London. Her early research identified mechanisms of energy balance regulation, obesity and cachexia. In 1984 she was awarded a Royal Society Research Fellowship and relocated to Manchester in 1987. Nancy was awarded a Chair in physiology in 1994, then a prestigious Medical Research Council Research Chair from 1998 to 2010. Her current research focuses on the role of inflammation in brain disease and has identified the role of the cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) in diverse forms of brain injury. Her recent studies have begun to elucidate the mechanisms regulating IL-1 release and its action, and her group has conducted the first early clinical trial of an IL-1 inhibitor in stroke.
Nancy was the founding President of the Society of Biology (now the Royal Society of Biology), and has previously served as President of the British Neuroscience Association, a council member of MRC, BBSRC and Cancer Research UK and as a non-executive director of AstraZeneca. In 2003 she won the prestigious Pfizer Research Prize, in 2004 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 2005 was honoured with a DBE.
Nancy became President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester in July 2010, but still maintains an active research group. She is currently Co-Chair of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, President of the British Science Association, a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater Manchester, Chair of Corridor Manchester Board and a member of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Board.
Nancy takes a strong and active interest in public communication of science and regularly gives talks to schools and the public and contributes to television, radio and press, particularly on sensitive issues in science. In 1998 she delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, televised by the BBC.