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  • Foto do escritorStephane Werner

What's the "social role" of scientists?

Atualizado: 10 de out. de 2021

I was invited to give a virtual talk about the "social role of scientists" by my previous university (USP). Well, I thought a lot about what to say, it's a broad question, and there are many things I could mention there, so I decided to do the slide that's in the end of this post and explore each topic. However, I decided that my main goal was not to give answers but to make people think about the questions.

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Why is science important?

First of all, why is science so special? Why is it different from other types of knowledge? To be clear, I'm not saying science is "better". I'm saying it is different in a specific way. Its method is rigorous. Scientific discoveries are crucial because scientists struggle to find the answers and make sure it is the most sensible answer given their data. Quoting Carl Sagan: the scientific method is not perfect, but it is the best we have until now to understand nature.

Science can be used by society in terms of medicine and improving people's health. We live in a pandemic, and scientists have been responsible for developing vaccines and helping infected people survive. Science can be applied to technology, and the internet, cell phone and computer you use are products of this science. Science is also responsible for the development of modern cities and at the same time is important to take care of natural environments. Social sciences also teach humans to learn from the past.

Ok, science can be applied, but it's also necessary to invest money in pure science. People's curiosity trying to understand nature in the past made the world we live in today possible. Some curious people were not interested in applying science anywhere. They were only trying to understand what they saw, and this is valid. There are many cases in science that the "product" to society comes many years later and could not be predicted.

Why should science and its method be spread?

One main reason is critical thinking. You know I love Carl Sagan, and I will have to quote him again: science is a way of thinking. When you open your mind to it, you change the way you see the world around you. Many people try to fool others by selling your product based on "science", but there is no science there. If you don't understand how science works, you can be easily fooled by these people. Starting to question what you see and listen to is life-changing. A society with critical thinking would not be fooled so easily.

Moreover, when you spread science, you can inspire a new generation of scientists. Astronomy is key to call people's attention to science in general.

Science and politics

If you are a scientist and talk about politics on social media, probably you have already heard something like "stop talking about politics and keep talking about science". Well… I have something to tell you: they are connected, and it's a fact. How can you do science without money nowadays? You can't. Scientists need money to do their research and also to live. Although most of us love science, we cannot eat love; we need food, a home, and we have families. So, saying that science and politics are separated fields is nonsense.

Now we come across a moral question: what's the ethical role of scientists? Now I will give my opinion, I can be wrong, who knows, but I believe that scientists can change the world and change it in a good way. The scientific community should talk to the public, be aware of frauds, and show the importance of critical thinking. I believe that scientists as a group should organize themselves to fight for a better world.

So, all scientists must do science outreach and show their political views? Well, maybe yes, maybe not... People are different, some people are not comfortable talking to a lot of people, or they want to focus on research or other types of work. We cannot force people to do something they "don't like". Possibly these people are comfortable in their positions because they are privileged by society, so it's comfortable for them to stay where they are. Or maybe they are too tired of trying hard to change things and don't see much change. It's frustrating. Well, this is complicated, and I'll leave this open question to you. Let me know what you think about it in the comments!

I used this slide to resume ideas.

See you all soon!

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