Monthly Archives: May 2017

Science and Society (op.ed.)

Not to sound too cynical, but sometimes it feels like people only “fucking love” science if it agrees with their current views of reality, or if it’s something flashy and pretty. Which, you know, contradicts the basic premise of curiosity-driven research. Every scientific venture in a capitalist world must have a financially-motivated outcome. No one’s looking into fun things just for the fun of it. You just can’t get grants that way. You have to write up some grand outcomes scheme to get funded – which is unfortunate because it feels dishonest. You say that looking into this protein folding mechanism might someday help find vaccinations against prion diseases; well that’s a pretty damn far call! That’s years, maybe even more than a decade down the line! Think about the big picture think about the big picture.

As a child I loved science because it allowed me to go down a fantastic rabbit hole, full of endless possibilities and outcomes. It’s never the end-goals that were important but rather the things you learned along the way. The following quote is presented while keeping in mind that Thomas Alva Edison was a fucking asshole and an ideas-theif, but I first heard it as a child so it still holds sentimental meaning to me:

I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that will not work.

That quote keeps me going when things go wrong in the lab in my own work. But in reality, a culture of “publish or perish” permeates scientists’ and grad students’ daily life, shifting the focus into volume of publication rather than quality and utility of publications and research.

Setting aside that issue, the other thing that has been bothering me for a while (exacerbated by a series of horrifying bills put forth by the current US administration, and the fact that I have been reading a lot about climate change research lately while on my short trip to the beautiful mountains of Alberta) is how the general public will claim they “love” science when it comes in the form of flashy experiments  and life-saving bio-technology which will take over social media – probably with someone making some sort of stupid, overly broad conclusion from a mere video. But they dont “love” science when it means accepting certain changes into their lifestyles. They don’t “love” it when it might mean forgoing buying a gosh-darn 4×4 and unnecessarily large trucks which emit a lot more greenhouse gases than a smaller, more fuel-efficient car. Living in the heart of Alberta, I see this all too much. Of course, it is not only up to the individuals to forgo luxury items that really serve no purpose other than to rev their weirdly large ego, and possible compensation for other inferiority complexes. It is also up to the administration of cities and provinces to concentrate more on urban planning and public transit, to avoid the urban sprawl in so many North American cities; individual family homes are less fuel-efficient than apartment buildings and flats. If it was less expensive to live in the city center, and housing was more easily available in areas with good public transport, maybe people wouldn’t feel the need to buy individual vehicles. After all, it’s not fair to ask poor people living on the outskirts of town to save money to give up their vehicle which may be their only way to get to work.

But even those small changes are met with public backlash. Who remembers the obnoxious whining about the carbon tax introduced this year? Any step towards a more environmentally conscious system is seen as a personal threat to people’s lifestyles and their luxuries. If only they knew how far we have already gone with climate change, the damage that has already been done.

There’s the books and science on climate change, and it is non-controversial in scientific realms; then there’s the media, where if you look, climate change is apparently a topic that is still up for debate. Whom will the public believe? The media, who knows how to present a narrative in an entertaining way, or scientists, who’s languages are often too inaccessible for the general public? This is why I began writing this blog. But even this is filtered through my personal lens. And I can understand that my personal lens are a little too snarky for a lot of peoples’ liking.

I have added to my book recommendations based on the stuff I’ve been reading recently. They are a pretty grim, but necessary read. By 2050, we’ll start to see a massive influx of ecological migrants and refugees from the Middle East and coastal settlements because their environment has become too hot and arid to live in, or their homes have drowned. I myself am from a country where my ancestral homes and lands are already partway under the Bay of Bengal, and by 2050 and rising sea-levels, it’s expected about 20% of my homeland will be under water. This is inevitable. But what we can try to do is make sure things don’t go even further than that. What will happen by 2060 is already set in stone but the rest…we can still try. If we have to die as a species, don’t you think we should go down swinging?

Look at how the world is handling the refugee crisis right now. How much better equipped do you think the world will be to handle the next wave of refugees so soon in our future? It’s expected to be a much bigger wave, from countries whose cultures are very dissimilar from ours. There is a need for scientists to work on new technologies to move towards renewable resources, not build another goddamn pipeline or mine for coal. Newsflash Drumpf, there is no such thing as “clean coal”; coal by its very nature emits a lot more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuels. Stop promising to “resurrect mining jobs” (I’m sure he said that, in much more incomplete sentences). It’s time to taper away our dependence of fossil fuels and set up the infrastructure necessary to shift to using renewable energy exclusively, and to lower our net energy consumption.

If the rednecks hate refugees now, imagine how much more they’re going to hate it when the number of refugees triple or quadruple, and not through any fault of their own. But because you don’t want to let go of your trucks and 4×4 and lavish single family homes with too many bedrooms. I don’t think knowing about it will change their mind, because I’m much too cynical. They’ll probably go about thinking “why should I deprive myself?” while the future comes at us; too slow to really see, but with the surety of death.

If you “fucking love” science, fucking start listening to it.