Scientific advertising

As I see it, the main goal of science is to enhance our understanding of the natural world and use this knowledge to improve our lives. An important intermediate step is to communicate the developments between scientists themselves as well as the general public. This way, everyone can benefit. The corona crisis however made me realize there is another crucial ingredient: to help the society deal with challenges we find ourselves facing. How did science do in this respect, in the context of the corona crisis?

From one point of view, science did great. The vaccine approval process has been drastically sped up. Decades of advances in vaccinology made it possible for us to find a way to deal with a new illness in less than a year since it first appeared. This is a spectacular achievement. But it is, in my opinion, not the only way in which science should contribute to solving this crisis.

To illustrate what I mean, I would like to mention the disturbing incident of “the man with the mathematical model”, as it is commonly known to the Czechs. To summarize, in the early stages of the pandemic Pavel Řehák, a CEO of an insurance company, approached the Czech government with an Excel spreadsheet, which crudely estimated how the pandemic could develop. The results were horrifying, and he was waiting to be corrected by some legitimate study. As he said himself, he is not an expert in neither mathematical modelling nor epidemiology. He just wanted to estimate, how will his business be affected. But it turned out the government had nothing better and started using his model in policy making.

How is that possible? Where were all the scientists, who devoted their entire lives to these fields? Sure, it is mainly the government’s fault. At the end of the day, it is their job to base their policies on legitimate analyses. However, the fact that the politicians listened to Řehák shows that if they were approached by a legitimate expert on the matter, he or she would be heard out too.

I would say that this is a weak spot of the scientific community. They are not vocal enough in the public debate. I don’t think it is entirely their fault, but I would say that there should be more effort in this respect. Scientists should be involved in evaluating the effects of policies. They should point out threats to the society and report them directly to politicians. Unfortunately, just publishing papers is rarely enough to enter the debate beyond academia.

I see a similar problem in other issues, such as global warming. There are many studies summarizing what the dangers are, how we could deal with them and who will be affected. However, I do not see these make their way into policies that are actually being adapted. The blame in my opinion shouldn’t only go towards the politicians.

Being visible in the public debate would also be great on many levels for the scientific community. Firstly, their position in the society would be strengthened, so that it would be easier to justify funding. Furthermore, presence of scientists in the media would give them the necessary platform to promote their discoveries and inventions, opening doors for easier collaboration with the industry. Finally, this would lead to a more educated society in general, which would in return significantly boost the usefulness of scientific breakthroughs, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

In conclusion, I think that being a little bit more aggressive in promoting their ideas would be beneficial to everybody. It is not just some charity that I think scientists should do, it is also to their major benefit. We cannot expect politicians, journalists and general public to look for, read and understand scientific papers. As in other areas, advertising should be an integral part of scientist’s work.

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