Science, scientists, researchers, policy-makers, and the rest of society. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)


Science, scientists, researchers, policy-makers, and the rest of society. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)

I was a Marie Curie participant at the anniversary celebrated in Warsaw in 2011 “Marie Curie Researchers Symposium: Science Passion Mission Responsibilities”.

There was a debate about scientists, researchers and their situation. Some had the chance to share their opinion but time was limited and I kept inside a though which I couldn´t share at the time so I spill it now.

Me, and I suppose many of us (researchers), are surrounded by people whom are outsiders from the world of research. People we encounter everyday part of our family and friends, working in administrative positions, at the market, taxi drivers, waiters, teachers, nurses, transporters, and so on. People that compose the majority of our society. A society that understands the impact that it would have in their lives the disruption of activity in most of the sectors except for … research.

Everybody knows the impact that it would have in their lives if the schools close, or if there is a disruption in transport (supplies and public transport), health services, rubbish collectors, …

So when I have been asked about my job and its applications, I know that they are implicitly aiming to understand, what would be the impact in their lives of having a disruption in my job’s sector? .

And I am not sure myself about the answer to such question. Why is not present in our society the role played by the scientific community? And I am afraid about possible scenarios.

Maybe, it is just a lack of skills in communication, reflecting the mentality of many scientists whom believe that making public your work equals publishing in scientific journals.

The use of the outcome from research is not well implemented into productive social and professional activities.

For instance, in the scientific community, “some” scientists do not even know which connections might have with other disciplines.  Even if they are aware of it there is no multidisciplinary platform allowing common ground for knowledge exchange. “Some” Scientist only go to conferences of their own field. When I went to the Marie Curie symposium celebrated in Warsaw I found myself in a multidisciplinary environment of scientists and none but one person knew about Aerobiology or any research involving seasonal allergies and pollen concentrations. Not even allergy sufferers… So, why only few know about other scientists and all their work??? Cause most of both are kept in scientific journals read by scientists of the same field.

About implementing scientific output into society. I would use myself as an example of social awareness issues. In the field of Aerobiology I have studied the implications of monitoring atmospheric pollen concentrations in relation with people suffering from allergies and farmers suffering from GM contamination by cross pollination. Yet, when I share my experience in waste management or landscape management my talk is in some way easy to be found related to most people lives. But I have encountered many people being surprised by discovering that there is people like me doing research about matters  that are directly related with their daily problems either because they are hay fever sufferers or farmers worried about the proximity of GM crops. And they are even more surprised by knowing that the information published in scientific papers has not been implemented through appropriate channels to be part of their resources.

Scientists and their knowledge should be available, accessible and part of society playing a similar role as medical advice given by Doctors. Instead, many scientists, their work and its implications in social development are only known and understood by their colleagues.

Since I have been involved in market research analyses for product development I know how different can sometimes be the properties demanded in a product by each of the players in the value chain.  Scientific research is driven by policy makers whom base their decisions on political agendas and senior researchers  demand young people bringing fresh ideas for research but the same Senior researchers are the ones keeping the access to resources, so they have to be as open minded as the new scientists they want.

Value chains can be used to analyse the total social benefit from products and services, and to clarify and refine the relationships between and among links in the chain.

And that is why I wonder if scientific research should be more proactive looking for those questions to be answered in the minds of the sufferers (Farmers, patients, …). Is it possible that science and researchers have developed such different ways of thinking, behave and communicate that are not able to engage with the rest of society?

The concept of mobility applied for the research jobs market, with all the potential behind it for career development, is becoming closely similar to that of the life of people working on destination, like a military career. People are starting to identify researcher with instability. So, under our family, friends and neighbours eyes we become members of society always on the move, with no input in long term social activities they can relate to. And that is not the way to sell a career prospect. Not if we want to allow researchers to engage in society as members building long term relationship with neighbours and friends, having the opportunity to create a family and become actively involved in a community. Mobility should be the way to transfer knowledge between people and not to transfer lives between places.

Or, maybe it is true that our society does not need to be aware of our input into society because we are not relevant enough in the value chain.

When you are a researcher looking for a job position it is when it becomes more evident  than ever that researchers without jobs are an expendable value that some societies feel that they can afford to miss.

I believe that there is a need for the development of appropriate channels digesting scientific output into applicable input at all levels and throughout all platforms. The wall created in the past between researchers, academia and the rest of society built the concept of “living in an Ivory Tower” to indicate that someone is out of touch with common experience and communication.

Just to break the ice, similar situation could well be defined by Jethro Tull´s song: “thick as a brick”. Hope you like it.

Just a thought.

(Further discussion below)

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About Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.

Citing This Site "Title", published online "Month"+"Year", retrieved on "Month""Day", "Year" from http://www.diegofdezsevilla.wordpress.com. By Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD. More guidance on citing this web as a source can be found at NASA webpage: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/bibliography/citations#! DOIs can be generated on demand by request by email: d.fdezsevilla(at)gmail.com for those publications missing at the ResearchGate profile vinculated with this project. Author´s profile: Bachelor in General Biology, Masters degree "Licenciado" in Environmental Sciences (2001, Spain). PhD in Aerobiology (2007, UK). Lived, acquired training and worked in Spain, UK, Germany and Poland. I have shared the outcome from my previous work as scientific speaker in events held in those countries as well as in Switzerland and Finland. After couple of years performing research and working in institutions linked with environmental research and management, I find myself in a period of transition searching for a new position or funding to support my research. In the present competitive scenario, instead of just moving my cv and wait for my next opportunity to arrive, I have decided to invest also my energy and time in opening my own line of research showing what I am capable of. The value of the data and the original nature of the research presented in this blog has proved to be worthy of consideration by the scientific community as well as for publication in scientific journals. However, without a position as member of an institution, it becomes very challenging to be published. I hope that this handicap do not overshadow the value of my work and the intellectual rights represented by the license of attribution attached are respected and considered by the scientist involved in this line of research. Any comment and feedback aimed to be constructive is welcome. In this blog I publish pieces of research focused on addressing relevant environmental questions. Furthermore, I try to break the barrier that academic publications very often offer isolating scientific findings from the general public. In that way I address those topics which I am familiar with, thanks to my training in environmental research, making them available throughout my posts. (see "Framework and Timeline" for a complete index). At this moment, 2017, I am living in Spain with no affiliation attachments. Free to relocate geographically worldwide. If you feel that I could be a contribution to your institution, team and projects don´t hesitate in contact me at d.fdezsevilla (at) gmail.com or consult my profile at LinkedIn, ResearchGate and Academia.edu. Also, I'd appreciate information about any opportunity that you might know and believe it could match with my aptitudes. The conclusions and ideas expressed in each post as part of my own creativity are part of my Intellectual Portfolio and are protected by Intellectual Property Laws. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial conditions. In citing my work from this website, be sure to include the date of access. (c)Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD, 2017. Filling in or Finding Out the gaps around. Publication accessed 20YY-MM-DD at http://www.diegofdezsevilla.wordpress.com/
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13 Responses to Science, scientists, researchers, policy-makers, and the rest of society. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)

  1. Answer to the following comment:
    “The problem is probably in that scientific activities have no sense for the rest of the population. The problem is in the “disruption” of the “conceptual space”. Researchers use different words to describe their realities, and their realities are very different from the realities of the conventional people. Researchers, for example, even have to create the new concepts to describe new models and processes. And vice versa, they create new realities, methods and ways of thinking, frequently too difficult to understand by non-professionals.”

    My take on this (Diego Fdez-Sevilla):
    Even though I understand the point I disagree on that: ” The problem is probably in that scientific activities have no sense for the rest of the population due to a conceptual barrier”.
    The isolation of research from the rest of society I believe is not based on a “conceptual barrier”. Specialization has been always the way to improve performance in all sectors of society. From fishery, medicine, agriculture, meteorology, economy… and due to specialization there has always been a process of designing and development of specific tools and methodologies which generate new concepts associated in order to allow communication. In every sector, outsiders have limitations to comprehend the full meaning of specialized concepts. In scientific research as much as in medicine, Doctors and Ph.D. are demanded of being able to communicate complex concepts and subjects to an audience unfamiliar with the terminology of their field. The specific terms applied in the fishery industry might not be of common use and understanding for outsiders but still we know enough to understand the role played by this sector in our society. And the same applies for Agriculture, Meteorology, Medicine, Economy, Architecture, Nutrition… Since we are little we learn who is the person to consult with in case we have problems with each part of our body. One specific area, one specific terminology and one specialist. And we learn to use it and he/she learns to communicate complex matters in a simple way. In scientific research should be the same. It should be in the common knowledge how to recognise the link between needs and the field of science implicated. By participating in different discussion groups at LinkedIn I have seen comments claiming about the unrealistic perception of matters from academia members when discussing issues confronted by professionals of a field. I have tried to make academic input part of discussions and I have even built a report compiling my participation through those group discussions just making an effort to make a contribution(https://diegofdezsevilla.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/hot-topics/). At the end, it is not academic publication for my cv neither professional consultancy. Since at this moment I can not generate data to make scientific publications (I’m without a job position) still I believe that scientists should participate more in non academia discussions adding their input by digesting scientific research into more accessible resources for the rest of society.

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  2. In scientific productivity, how things are produced has made the front line since it has become a success in marketing. We know about materials more than ever like Carbon fibre and its applications in cars, bikes, and also about Ecological food and Fatty acids in our diet, Economic indexes and our salary (at least whom has one). I sense that there is more social awareness about research aimed to production but not so much about research aimed to exposure. We and our environment are exposed to many things. And yet, the first big social impact from using such approach can just be seeing in the discussion generated around the perception of our climate and environment. Our atmosphere is exposed to many components and there is a concern about how our climate would cope with the exposure to Greenhouse gasses, chemical substances and aerosol. And then it is the matter about us getting exposed to elements present in our food, air and materials we are in contact with. And also we have our water resources getting exposed to and our soils. However, production, products to buy and products to be healthier, seems to me as the major leagues playing to be on the front line of awareness. And with that it is created a sense of need for those sectors over the rest. Society needs production (food and materials), transport for it, economic advice and health services. And we are aware of the people involved because from their situation we feel an impact in our daily life. And in each sector there is a specific terminology and complexity that the most of us can just broadly understand. So, if the conceptual terminology is not a barrier in other sectors why would it be in scientific research? Why is not so common to link scientific resources with social awareness? And what can you achieve in a scientific career?

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  3. I would say that a good communicator is defined by its capacity to communicate any matter to any audience. Similar to when a researcher has the opportunity to explain what is that he/she is researching on to a taxi driver, lawyer, farmer, uncle, grandmother, … I have always treasure when somebody makes me feel smart enough to understand “complex” matters outside my comfortable zone. And actually I believe that sometimes involving outsiders in your own research might bring some useful out of the box thinking. So I believe that sharing outside your own scientific community is a very useful way of improving researcher’s communication skills.

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  4. Answers from members of LinkedIn groups with extending views. Names are not mentioned in order to keep their privacy:
    (Secretary General of the IAPG – International Association for Promoting Geoethics; Researcher at INGV)
    Dear Diego,
    your article is very interesting, thank you.
    The IAPG (International Association for Promoting Geoethics) is working hard on this and other similar topics: science and society, social role of scientists, ethical implications of science, communication of science, what strategies have to be adopted so that the scientific knowledge becomes part of a shared social knowledge .

    http://www.iapg.geoethics.org
    _______________________________________________________
    (Professor emeritus at University of Washington)
    Diego: I am one of those Quixotic scientists you speak of (and maybe are one too). New ideas are always a challenge to the establishment; to the “This is the way we’ve always done it” group. This is a well-known issue in intellectual circles, so much so that someone (Voltaire?) famously said: “Knowledge (or science) proceeds one funeral at a time.” To illustrate, my poster from this Fall AGU meeting was titled: “Weather/climate Modellers Need a Better PBL Model: It’s Been 43-years Since a Better PBL Model Became Available”. There’s the implied “Why don’t you use it?” Well, I excuse them “Because it is too difficult for you, a complicated nonlinear solution where you are using a 110-year old simple linear solution.” But this was not completely correct, as you suggest in your article. One of my students, now a professor in Atmospheric Sciences at Univ. of Washington, worked with another of our PhD graduates employed at NCEP to successfully incorporate the nonlinear model into their weather prediction model. It just takes incentive, and diligent work. I might paraphrase another Voltaire quote: “To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered.” By saying: “To succeed in the world it is not enough to be brilliant, you must also be well-mannered & non-controversial”.
    You’ll find a record on my “battle” to introduce “social awareness” to science (in particular, global warming) in SeattlePI.com/robertbrown/.
    _______________________________________________________
    (Research scientist at CSIRO)
    Diego,
    You’d be interested in discussions on the Global Network for Research Integration & Implementation forum on Linkedin. Also you can check online papers etc from their 2013 conference at http://www.i2sconference.org/
    _______________________________________________________
    (research associate)
    Diego, you make few good points in your blog. I do have to say that science outreach sometimes depends on us and we have to learn how to better connect to non-scientists. This situation is getting better in USA; major research universities are actively “translating” science to non-science community and why what we do matters through organizing outreach events, hiring PR people etc. But still, there is more to do…
    _______________________________________________________
    (Retired at NOAA)
    Scientists, particularly those receiving public funds, have an obligation to communicate their findings and scientific opinions to “the public” if they are generally or especially important and potentially useful regarding human health, safety, the environment and the economy. One person, without scientific position or credentials, will be given scant attention. The force multiplier is then being part of an organization, movement or society with concerns similar to yours. Otherwise you are just another person with a megaphone.

    However, there are many avenues for expression and exposition by writing for laypersons in popular scientific and environmental magazines, journals, newsletters, blogs and even newspapers. Writing for the popular press is not easy; it requires that you be accurate, knowledgeable and interesting.

    It is a waste of time to write for people exactly like yourself unless you have something new and different to say.Otherwise you’re just part of the echo chamber.
    _______________________________________________________
    (Professor na UCP)
    Dear Diego:
    Thank you for your article, precious and timely. In my opinion, these symptoms are more discernible in the Southern Europe (speaking only in terms of Europe), rather than in the Anglo-Saxon culture – a weakness that affects, e.g., our two countries (Spain and Portugal).
    _______________________________________________________
    Diego Fdez-Sevilla (myself):
    I am glad that my article shares some interest and I feel grateful for your contribution. It helps to have references from others sharing points of view and it also helps to have support from those who give me courage to keep speaking out. Since I am in a transition period between job positions, just by speaking out I am exposing myself to scrutiny by potential employers. So I have more to lose than somebody who is not putting at risk any career prospects or potential resources for funding.

    Being without attachments from an affiliation gives you freedom of speech to a certain extend. Total freedom if you are retired, but you have to be careful when you are trying to build bridges and not to burn them down. So with my blog I am just trying to share what I find in my path throughout a constant effort for staying updated in environmental research. Sharing information published in academic and none academic media as well as bringing some thoughts to an untargeted audience with the only intention of enhancing my skills in communication and the hope of building more bridges than burning them down.

    Someone asked me once if I would have any problem in going against the establishment. Tricky question to answer. I said no since I like to fight for what I believe is appropriate. But, what about if fighting for what you believe put at risk your job position or unsettle those bringing funding to your research or the institution you are part of? How much credit and support would you be given to stand for what you believe? Would you lose the value of your credit by leaving the organization, movement or society you might be part of? What about losing your job? Would you lose your credit since you are not part of any affiliation?

    I guess some scientists, among others, might fear what being in the public media may bring by putting at risk building apathy from untargeted audiences. I don´t have many options. If you don´t make noise you don´t exist. I welcome any participation aimed to be constructive in order to build bridges and improve myself as a person and as a researcher. I have been performing research since I finished my university degree in 2001, moved from Spain to UK and Germany to carry out a thesis for which I was awarded PhD (at the same time that I had to learn proper English), published only part of my intellectual property portfolio and lectured in International venues and I am resilient to change my mind set to keep quiet and wait. Otherwise it is just another brick in the wall.

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  5. Pingback: Cultural cognition and the role it plays in polarizing debates | diego fdez-sevilla

  6. Hey Diego, really great blog. I think that the role of the scientists in the society is also changing with more emphasis on the transferable skills training during PhD. It is no longer an exclusively scientific training programme.

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    • Thank you Jano for your comment.
      I believe that there is still a long way to go in order to make science/scientists, research/researchers have a public impact and create public awareness. There is social awareness about the role played, and the need for lawyers, health services, education, economists, … but I don´t see same awareness in the sector of research. The implementation of their members and their output in society is somehow missing. Any poll asking members of society about which are the sectors with a major impact in their lives will leave research and science at the bottom, and just if they are reminded about its existence as a productive sector. And also there is the question about the requirements you need to fulfil to follow a career in research and the impact that pursuing that career would have in your own life. And then compare it with any other career path you might choose. Lets say that if you want to settle down with your couple in a place where to invest in a house … would you choose the career of research as a safe investment?? Starting from Spain, the sector in itself seems to offer no pressure over the policies applied to define employment conditions. Also, society does not offer any support to fight for an improvement, and the scientific international community is divided by profit markets and scientific specialization. As a result, a whole country, chooses to sacrifice the whole sector of research in order to reorganise the internal economic situation based on that there is no opposition strong enough to do otherwise. A naive move from an unknowledgeable mindset. Such policy/mentality prefers to support dig in the core of the ground to find petrol than dig in the core of the brain cortex to identify issues and find solutions.

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  11. jaimesal says:

    Thanks Diego for bringing up again this interesting topic. I would just bring up here the field of “Policy Oriented Research”, as differentiated from Academic Research, which actually has been introduced some time ago and also has been put into practice to some extent, with important benefits for society. I would suggest to focus our attention for a while on this different field.

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    • Jaime, thanks for commenting.
      Even though I understand your point of view on differentiating “Academic Research” from “Policy Oriented Research”, as such, this differentiation in itself does not tackle the issue of integrating Science, scientists, researchers, policy-makers, and the rest of society.
      Since the date of publication for this article in Nov 2013, I have discussed in other publications related issues standing in the shadows:
      In Nov 2013 I added as a comment in the present publication (Science, scientists, researchers, policy-makers, and the rest of society. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) 2013/11/28: “the sector of research in itself seems to offer no pressure over the policies applied to define (its own) employment conditions.“.
      If the actual conditions are those on which research employment and career paths are far from stable or even sustainable, let alone how can we expect to make “policy orientated research” a career with much better prospects to sustain a family.
      Are we all forgetting that behind science and research there is people who has to pay bills, eat, sustain a car, help family and friends offering support of all kinds, … ???
      After I published this article, somebody in a group at linkedin made a comment saying that my point of view was due to Cultural differences adding bias to my point of view (it is in the comments section here). So I wrote an article addressing such bias Cultural cognition and the role it plays in polarizing debates. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) 2014/02/03.

      However, time have passed since 2013 and the situation for scientists around the world seems to be not so different from what I described as the commenter tried to point out. And that is something we see when researchers from all sectors are jumping from position to position, crossing borders at the same time that have to contain their aspirations and dress-up their publications afraid of not following institutionalised agendas.
      I believe that one relevant situation which has emerged (intentionally or unintentionally), is the division inside the sector of science. A situation which is generating isolation and disorganisation, which in turn tames the spirit of scientists looking for something better. And this internal division comes with the process of extreme specialization in sectors which do not communicate between each other and are isolated by their own specialization.
      Cross-pollinators and the risks of specialization. The screw and the knife. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)2014/01/16

      At the end, scientists are not united, politicians dismiss their work and the rest of society does not know, understand or even acknowledge what is happening.
      Climate. The Long Distance Between Science And Politics. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla, PhD.)2016/08/21

      One thing has been clear to me as PhD and individual, since I started to interact in social media platforms, and that is that Communication takes more than just publishing thoughts.
      Communication takes more than just publishing thoughts. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) 2015/06/09

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