Trump government’s travel ban troubled numerous scientists working in the USA, hurting science as a whole, without any need to stress upon how difficult it was for those who were banned. Those who weren’t affected by the ban have enough to take care of by tackling visa policies. Brexit came with its own share of additional insecurity amongst the European research community. Budget cuts in science have become common worldwide. A new Hungarian law threatens closure of one of their leading universities. And there are numerous examples in both developed and developing countries where there is an enormous disconnect between what the scientists claim, what the citizens perceive and what laws and policies revolve around those.
Assuming that politicians and scientists strive only for the betterment of their countries, and for the human society as a whole, then why do we see a lack of healthy amalgamation of these two communities? Why are we seeing an increase in decisions that are clearly not healthy for science, and a paucity of significant public interest in it? As scientists have we failed miserably to communicate not only our passion but also the importance of our work to the society? Do the statesmen really understand the criteria on which they base their decisions that impact science? Are they willing to get into their details? Are there unbiased, progressive platforms that can facilitate discussions between scientists and statesmen that assist them in taking informed decisions?
Although we might have reached this sad state of facing the short end of the stick, as the sufferers, it’s high time that we, scientists, took charge of connecting with the public – the layman and the politician. After all, they need convincing that our ever-increasing, complicated research has a potential to widen the frontiers of human knowledge – some of which might help us develop a life-saving invention in the coming month and some might need years of hard work. It is also necessary for people to be actively made aware that they are surrounded with discoveries, quite a few of which have taken decades of intellectual perseverance before they evolved into usable products. And it’s only with public support that the rather small scientific community can channelize its importance to the law and policy makers.
As a coordinated global step towards facilitating a healthy relationship between science and society, the community of supporters of science (both from scientific and other backgrounds) are organizing ‘March for Science’ at more than 500 locations worldwide on 22nd April, 2017. Backed by universities, reputed research institutes and well-known organizations that support socio-scientific causes, the marchers plan to connect people with science via media, talks and activities. The hope is that it will spark the necessary enthusiasm to engage the public scientifically, that will finally trickle down to gathering their support for science in politics, policy and law-making. The aim is that this would trigger a cascade of dissolution of barriers between scientists and the society, such that we all understand our inter-dependence and acknowledge our roles in growing a better world.
What are the chances that a single event will potentially enable a heroic task of taking off the perceived alien mask donned by science? Maybe the scale of the event globally will suffice for such a miracle to happen or at least it might mark its beginning. All of these remain to be seen and answered. But not ascertaining different ways of taming this demon and analyzing the efficacies of such movements, aren’t options anymore. The problem, too big and daunting, is staring at our faces. It is time that we all must roll up our sleeves and put on our thinking hats to show what it takes to make it possible for scientists to reach out to our fellow citizens and let them appreciate that science aims to make all our lives better.
Check the different locations where March for Science is going to be held. See if your town/ city also has one. I hope you attend the event, and let me know your thoughts about it – its success and areas of development, in the comments section.
I thank Vinita Bharat, PhD for her help with the illustration and Sayantan Chakrabarty, PhD for his help with editing the article.
About the author:
Somdatta Karak works with Club SciWri as a project co ordinator and Corporate Liaison. She is a doctorate in neuroscience from Georg August University, Göttingen, Germany and has been a Teach for India fellow (2014-16). She loves putting her analytical skills to build newer and more sustainable solutions, enjoys traveling and communicating and takes every opportunity to expand her horizon.
You can reach her here.