Don’t Only March, Make Noise for Science!
April 22, 2017. The day we all March for Science. If you’re not aware of what the March for Science is, I can’t explain it better than they can in their own words:
The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.
The March for Science is a celebration of science. It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.
Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defence?
There is no Planet B. Join the #MarchForScience.
I’m in two minds on this. I’m broadly in favour of positive, non-violent, demonstrations. And I wouldn’t do the job I do if I didn’t believe in the importance of science. Using the magic of website analytics, I have a good idea of who’s reading this; I suspect you probably feel the same about science.
My big concern is that we make a lot of noise at each other, rather than getting the right kind of attention.
Should Scientists involve themselves in politics?
100% yes. Science relies on government funding, and relies on mutual relationships with multiple government bodies. At its core, science serves the people. Government (supposedly) is there to represent and serve the people. We’re all grownups here, so we all know that life is rarely that pure. There are many hidden (and not so hidden) agendas on both sides of the fence that bend the system for personal gain. It’s an inescapable fact of just about any walk of modern life.
So why get involved in politics?
Because if you don’t, things won’t change for the better. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But what is certain, is that we need good people out there making the right kind of noise and fighting those battles. Not fighting those battles on our behalves, but fighting them right alongside us.
Science can be quite an insular community. Even as a media organisation we feel it. At the good ship FLG, we sit on a floor with a few other media groups serving different sectors. You can tell who we’re the ‘scientists’ a mile away. Even within our own team, you can tell who’s come from a scientific background and who hasn’t. As scientists, we are trained to have a very specific approach to life. We are naturally sceptical, we are analytical, we are problem solvers, we get bored easily, and we are endlessly curious (the longer I spend outside of research, the more I’ve come to realise that scientists can also pretty much drink anyone under the table!).
There’s are all great qualities, and immensely useful transferable skills, but it does mean you lose perspective with the ‘real world’ from time to time. It’s very easy to forget just how badly understood science is outside of the scientific community, and how little genuine interest there is.
What are people interested in?
People are interested in what affects them most. One of the first things you learn when you learn ‘copy writing’ is to sell people on what is need to know rather than what’s nice to know. Need to know, means someone is going to miss out if they don’t read on. Nice to know, equates to “I must remember to read that later.” And that’s really the issue. A lot, and I really do mean a lot, of science just isn’t need to know for the general public. That’s not to say it isn’t important. It just doesn’t really affect them that much in the immediacy.
I mentioned I was broadly in favour of marching for science. And I am. But I can’t help but think we should be focussing more of our efforts on how we communicate science and it’s very real importance on our everyday lives and the future we leave behind to our children (for those of you who have them!).
I live and work in London. Every few weeks I’ll walk past a march or a demonstration. A lot of the time I won’t know what it’s about. On some occasions, I’ll just walk on past. Sometimes I’ll try to read one of the signs or ask, but it’s rare that I’ll join in or take action. So, if you’re out marching, make sure you don’t just march. Think about the root of the problem. We all have friends and family outside of the scientific arena. It’s up to us to engage with them and make a compelling case as to why science is need to know rather than nice to know. They’re the ones that will put the most compelling pressure on in the political arena.