Science Pub

Science is a cause for curious souls

Tuesday 13 Jun 17

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Morten Nørholm
Senior Researcher
DTU Biosustain
+4545 25 80 26

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Anders Østerby Mønsted
Communications Officer
DTU Biosustain
+4524 67 79 47

Advocating for science in public was the theme when the rewarded American professor Kenneth R. Miller spoke at the PhD club’s event ‘Science Pub’. 

The most exciting time for a biologist is right now because the knowledge and the tools that makes it possible to change society for the better are available. However, scientists are challenged by a climate of suspicion and a new wave of anti-evolutionists raising their voices all across the globe. These critical voices tend to ask the same question; what is science up to?

How to answer this question, in order to advocate effectively for science in the public eye was a key theme when Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University, visited the PhD club at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability.

One of the biggest challenges that scientists meet is the task of effectively communicating complex scientific research to a broad audience, according to Miller.

“It is extremely important that scientists make people understand the value of what they are doing by explaining how science can affect the daily lives of ordinary people. We have not been good enough at doing this, he says”.

Fighting anti-science movements

Miller has been on the front lines in his homeland as one of the most visible public defenders of evolution and a strong opponent of creationism and intelligent design. He has campaigned for candidates who support the teaching of evolution in Kansas and Ohio, and has encouraged the popularisation of scientific concepts in public debates. 

"Scientists have to look beyond science itself and in a plain language explain how they can change society in the interest of all people"
Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology

He emphasises that science struggles with cultural cognition. The scientific community is viewed as being elitist with an interest of promoting the pharmaceutical industry. This results in an increased polarisation between the professional scientific opinion and the public opinion.  In the U.S. even former presidential candidates, such as Ben Carson and Rick Perry, has questioned the validity of major scientific findings, including the theory of Big Bang.

“Science is seen as part of an establishment, but more information is not the key to turn this development around. More information will just make people oppose even harder. Scientists have to look beyond science itself and in a plain language explain how they can change society in the interest of all people, says Miller”.

Science under pressure in Europe

While, some might argue that the rejection of science is barely something that matters in a European context, the professor provided his audience with several examples that the reality is somehow different. The anti-science movement that once were only limited to the U.S. is gaining ground on the eastern side of the Atlantic, and in a country like the Netherlands it has become a well-organised subculture.

As a consequence of this development, the Science Center at Brown University has expanded campus interest in the field of science communication. The Science Center has recently hosted workshops on science writing and science storytelling using visual media.

The Brown-professor advised the PhD’s participating at the Science Pub not only to appeal to authorities and policymakers to raise awareness about the value of their scientific research. They should rather let people see their passion for science. Because science is not elitist. Nor is it partisan. Science is for anyone with curiosity about how the world works.

This leads us back to the question; what is science up to?

Science is up to curing diseases, saving the planet and solving the greatest human mysteries. Remember to say it loud and clear. 

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