Wednesday, May 2, 2012

IAMA Scientist

Science Vs Politics series.

I am a scientist, and I’m proud.

I recently had a long conversation with a scientist that I respect, about the state of science research, policy, funding, interest in Australia, Based on the discussion, Mal and I agreed that he would never read this article and I openly told him that I would probably use a lot of what he has to say in a blog post about the topics we covered. This is that post.

The conversation started when I asked….actually I don’t know where it started, but it did. At some point in our conversation I mentioned that I think all the latest cuts to science amount to something of a tragedy for science and science education in our country, along with the resignation of our chief scientist for reasons that imply a less than inclusive government. It is my opinion that we are viewing science in this country in a skewed way.

Mal asked me, “Why should we treat science differently, why do we need places like Questacon, and science week, and countless other programs that push science down our throats.” I feel in a way he was being slightly argumentative, but his point was well made. It begs the question, why do we not have National Law week, or the Australian Taxi Drivers Festival or something.

Scientists are incredibly proud of their jobs, we are excited about what we might discover in the lab, we even want to tell others about it. We have these programs because enough of us think that it is important enough to communicate. Science is the persuit of knowledge. It's about asking the question why, discovery, finding out about the world we live in. Why shouldn't we blow our own trumpets and try and excite people about this very noble and human endeavor?

The question made me try and search for a justification for why science is important, then I realised, that I shouldn't need any justification. If there are enough scientists who want to add to the discussion, to educate the public, to get enthusiastic about their job, then let them. If accountants don't want to get the word out about their chosen profession, then will not force them. So in a way my answer to the question of what is so special about science, is the special people that do it.

I hope that politicians understand this but fear that they dont. Representation and exploration are two very different ideas. Politics and science are not the same language, so when a scientist talks about their chosen field, it isn't necessarily because they are after funding or because they think they are special, it is probably because they're human.