When politicians distort science, academics and scientists tend to watch in shock from the sidelines rather than speak out. But in an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we need to step into the breach and inject scientific literacy into the political discourse.
The 2017 March for Science was a powerful political statement by scientists. The marchers opposed political interference, budget cuts and lack of support for science at a government level.
More commonly, though, scientists stay in their labs and avoid the public political spotlight.
CSIRO scientist John Church – who initially acted as an individual (not a representative of his research institution) to “stand up for science” in 2015 – is cited as a recent example of the career ramifications that can flow from public activity.
Actually, he’s not alone. For years, outspoken scientists have encountered career difficulties and personal repercussions.
But climate science and the advent of digital and social media shape how scientists speak publicly about science now.
This is a 4min video on “Science in America”. It was so well done I felt compelled to share it on this blog. The description says it contains “what may be the most important words Neil deGrasse Tyson has ever spoken.”
Redglass Pictures is an award-winning production studio co-founded by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason and based in New York City. Their body of work is defined by a simple idea: that short, cinematic storytelling has the power to touch, teach, and change people. No matter the story or subject, their vision remains the same: give viewers something to care about – something that sticks with them long after the end frame.
Music by Ryan Whittier.
Globally, science is at a crossroads.
In the USA, a protectionist stance from policymakers and an increasingly inward focus have resulted in a restive public, giving rise to protest across spheres and sectors. This has sent ripples across the world, including in Australia.
Which is more important, a fact or an opinion on any given subject? It might be tempting to say the fact. But not so fast…
Lately, we find ourselves lamenting the post-truth world, in which facts seem no more important than opinions, and sometimes less so.
We also tend to see this as a recent devaluation of knowledge. But this is a phenomenon with a long history.
As the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote in 1980:
Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.
The view that opinions can be more important than facts need not mean the same thing as the devaluing of knowledge. It’s always been the case that in certain situations opinions have been more important than facts, and this is a good thing. Let me explain.