If I ruled the world: Dr Alice Roberts

Caroline Hutton

Anthropologist, writer and broadcaster Dr Alice Roberts is currently Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham

Society would be more peaceful.

We are sentient, clever creatures. We don’t need to be fighting like medieval feudal states—I’d insist on unilateral disarmament. The argument that we’re biologically programmed to fight is an excuse that ignores the fact that humans are fully capable of understanding the effect of their actions. There is cause for tentative optimism though; as Steven Pinker writes in The Better Angels of our Nature, violence has declined and with that knowledge, “The past seems less innocent; the present less sinister.”

 

I’d try to tackle the big diseases.

We’re spending a lot of money on researching rare diseases when we still have common ones killing millions. Malaria kills 3,000 children every day and TB infects a quarter of the world’s population. 1.7 million people died of TB—a vaccine-preventable illness—last year.

 

I’d champion education for women around the world.

If anyone is concerned about our rising population and the subsequent strain on the world’s food supply, they should be lobbying governments to give more to women’s education. We know that the higher the level of a woman’s education, the fewer children she’s likely to have.

 

We’d grab the opportunities technology has given us.

There’s a lot of talk about the negative aspects of technology and how we’re enslaved to our screens, but we should look positively at how it can work to free up choices. I’d like people to work flexibly. No one needs to go to an office nine to five to reply to emails. A lot of email correspondence is unnecessary and the rest can often be done at home or on the move. Technology should help us to balance all our roles in life.

 

I’d champion equality.

We’ve come a long way in the UK but we’ve still got frustratingly far to go. As a woman, a female scientist and a professor, equality for women is a burning issue for me. Only 20 per cent of science professors in the UK are women. Things are better for me than they were for my mother, but if all the top earners at the BBC are men and the women presenters on Radio 4’s Today programme are being paid significantly less than their male colleagues then how can we be said to be equal?

 

We would not sacrifice diversity for short-term yield.

We need to understand that the monoculture of intensive agriculture has railroaded itself into devastation of our natural world. Birds and insects are disappearing so rapidly that many species are heading to oblivion. We can’t have pockets of land devoted solely to farming. We need to diversify and create natural habitats. I’d like a label on food that shows which produce came from farms that are striving to look after our wildlife. Then consumers could get on board.

 

I’d ban plastic straws and make refilling plastic bottles common practice.

Remember when you could go to The Body Shop and refill your shampoo and gels? Someone should be brave and start that service again. I’m sure in the current climate, in which we’re all aware of the environmental danger of plastic, it would be a popular move.

 

Lego would be less painful to tread on.

Simple.

 

Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World by Alice Roberts is out now (Windmill Paperback, £9.99)