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2020 and 1 million deaths showed us that trust in science is broken. Now we need to fix it

When I saw this landmark day coming up, I knew I wanted to write about it and highlight the importance of science as a tool to bring positive change to the world.

 

It’s taken me until Monday night, the day before World Science Day for Peace and Development, to write about it. That is, it’s taken me this long to stop staring at the blank page while trying to drown the feeling that all scientific efforts have been cast aside as the world tumbles forward into utter chaos.

It’s taken me this long to dare write a post about what the scientific community needs to do moving forward, and about what our role in this year’s catastrophic events has been. 

 

The official objectives of World Science Day for Peace and Development are to:

  • Strengthen public awareness on the role of science for peaceful and sustainable societies;
  • Promote national and international solidarity for shared science between countries;
  • Renew national and international commitment for the use of science for the benefit of societies;
  • Draw attention to the challenges faced by science and raising support for the scientific endeavor.

 

Unfortunately, the above does not reflect the events of 2020.

 

Working with climate change communication and climate change denial, this year’s wave of anti-science outburst has been in no way surprising, but they have been disheartening, none the less.

 

Masks, 5G, micro-chips in vaccines, just to name a few. Even something as simple as the dismissal of the severity of COVID.

 

“It’s just the flu.”

In the science community, we like to pride ourselves on being right, and proper, and sticking to facts.

A true professional keeps their cool and doesn’t get emotional because we understand that science doesn’t care about emotions. Facts, trials, and peer reviews are elements we use to determine our actions, right? Science doesn’t pick sides, is what we tell ourselves.

 

But this year should serve as a potent reminder that facts are easy to dismiss. They are not a default element in decision-making, not for the individual nor on a governmental level.

 

That lack of trust in science came with an unbearable price this year. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost because of an unwillingness to accept science.

 

It is as heartbreaking as it is unacceptable.

 

Hundreds of thousands of lives lost. Not to fate, not to a pandemic, but to willful ignorance and the dismissal of science.

 

It’s so very tempting to point a finger in the direction of the uninformed, or the players who actively seek to gain from societies that lose trust in their government and scientists, and of course, there is blame to place there.

 

But we also have to look at our own role in this. Did we do enough to cultivate an understanding of the different sciences? To make them accessible for everyone? To build trust via human connections?

 

A need for a different approach to science

It’s so easy to get sucked into an echo chamber where everyone understands your line of thinking and line of expertise. And when you encounter someone who doesn’t, someone who disagrees with climate change, or who thinks vaccines cause autism, it’s so easy to turn away and dismiss not just the statements but the person.

 

The hard part is deciding to dig deeper. To understand the human and the fear behind the lacking trust in science. To dare and meet attacks on your line of work with compassion, instead of facts.

 

But this is what is needed from us.

Our vocation is not just a line of work. We don’t get to go home, hang our hats, kick up our feet, and relax. If you’re reading this, you are most likely working in a field that’s trying to change the world. Trying to stop ecosystems from collapsing. Trying to secure equal rights. Trying to move the world in a better direction.

 

Part of that job involves cultivating an understanding the people who are working against the change you are trying to create. Is it fair to add additional skills to your resume in order for you to do your job? No. It’s not. But life isn’t fair, and right now, we need to fix a lot of things before it is too late, and we need a global trust in science in order to do that.

 

Science community, you are not alone

I urge you, the science community, to team up with communicators, with psychologists, educators, activists, even influencers, and work with them to distribute the important knowledge of your field. To break down complex issues and make them assessable to everyone.

 

We cannot rebuild trust in science by staying in our echo-chambers and only working with people in our own vocation. We don’t have the luxury of merely learning about the world, writing papers, and then expecting citizens to trust us, or governing bodies to follow our advice.

We need to work together and bridge the gaps created by polarization. We need to put ourselves in the shoes, not just of our audience, but in the people we think we have nothing in common with.

Because the truth is, we have more in common than we think. We have more in common with climate change deniers, 5G opposers, and anti-maskers than we would like to admit.

 

We cannot solve the problems of the world without science.

 

But, without a foundation of empathy, there Is nowhere for science to take hold and grow.

 

When I started writing this post, I thought I would be writing about the importance of science in solving the many challenged we face.

 

But without empathy, compassion, and collaboration, science is useless. That vast pool of knowledge we already hold and that has the potential to lift the human race to a new standard of life, is just isolated facts, useful in pub quizzes and as entertainment.

 

If we want to change the world with science, we need to cultivate empathy.