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)