Finding my calling

So I was somewhat pleased yesterday when the previous post got so much
attention. Granted it was from just a few major contributors but none
the less it was nice to see that at least people read them. The debate
following it got a bit more heated than usual and I'm always a fan of
when that happens. I'm not one to start a "flame war" or anything like
that but a good spirited debate is right up my alley. Its especially
fun when both sides REALLY believe in what their saying and aren't
just trying to stir up trouble.
This all ties in a bit with my new potential career path. Namely, I've
been investigating for some time now the possibility of leaving the
lab setting and working in science policy as an advisor to
governmental departments and legislators. I think that this would be a
productive way for me to leverage a passion for reason and inquiry
into a greater public good. Luckilly, I've come across a number of
fellowship opportunities open to newly minted PhDs that might take me.
If anyone out there knows a big wig in AAAS, a heads up would be
greatly appreciated...or if you want to say super nice things about my
superior intellect in relation to the seas of other newly minted
PhDs...thats nice too.
Because of this new obsession, I've been thinking a lot about what i'd
like to change in terms of science policy in the US and I think that
the problems facing science here are simple but also very deep.
Namely, scientists don't sell their work properly or have an
understanding of how the system works. We spend a lot of time thinking
we are way smarter than all those idiot legislators and wondering how
nice it would be if they just understood what it is we do. Indeed,
that might be nice but its the WRONG approach. Rather its important
for the communication to run the same way the money does, in other
words legislators need to talk to scientists and explain their jobs
(and we need to listen rather than lecture). Scientists need to be
more appreciative of the pressures of being a senator, representative,
or even President. It is too much to expect our elected officials to
be experts on everything. With a nation as complex as the US it is
just an impossibility and we should expect really no more than a
rudimentary understanding of any particular issue and probably less
than that on scientific matters. Don't believe me? Look at Al Gore, he
has devoted his time out of office to climate science and some of the
mistakes he makes are HUGE. If he is an official dedicated to
science...think about how awful the understanding must be with the
rest of them that still need to worry about schools and roads and
health care.
Scientists need to make it simple and sellable (to constiuents). When
Sarah Palin decries the spending of money on research into fruitflies
she is unwittingly exposing whats wrong with the culture of science in
this country. Its not like NASA in the cold war...the public doesn't
see the purpose of them its just more tax dollars that could
put food on the table. If they knew that some of the most basic
understanding of human development comes from fruit flies or our
understanding of diseaes like diabetes and cancer is fostered in these
model organisms...they might not be so quick to discount it as
wasteful. We as a scientific community need to show them. It doesn't
all need to be about curing cancer. Even the most basic research could
be sold as the basis for human understanding for bettering the human
race, for expanding knowledge, for making sure that our college
graduates are the best educated in the world, etc etc. We also need to
make sure we treat our lawmakers like investors. Show them the ROI of
doing basic scientific research. Sure we put people to work but we
also build intellectual capital that makes competitive companies, new
partnerships, and fosters cooperation both at home and abroad. The
value here should not and rightly cannot be understated.
We also need to be careful to pick our battles and not be too
frightening. If the public is worried about cloning and stem cells
well then we take those things more slowly. If you move to quickly
forward you'll end up going backwards...better to slowly turn the tide
of public opinion before opening up the floodgates. For those familiar
with my views on evolution and education this probably sounds a bit
hypocritical but one is perfect. Patrick OUT!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment