The World Needs Scientific Rationalism

A scan of recent science-related headlines makes sorry reading for anyone with a rational, evidence-based world view. Drought in some places and flooding in others, set against a backdrop of climate skepticism. Increasing antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs, along with growing popular rejection of vaccines, set against clear evidence that vaccines work. Food shortages set against popular resistance to the innovation necessary in agriculture to feed a growing population.

There is increasing apathy towards science, verging, in some places, on hostility. National Geographic magazine takes this emerging phenomenon so seriously that its March 2015 cover bore the headline: “The War on Science.” Something has gone wrong with the way that science engages with society, but it is not too late to reverse the trend.

On April 5 this year, a beam of protons circulated in the LHC for the first time in two years. It was an important, if somewhat symbolic, milestone on the way to starting data collection for the second run of the world’s highest energy particle accelerator. Technically, it was not the most challenging part of the restart, yet still the world’s media and social media were excited and enthusiastic about the prospect for new discoveries. A few months before, the world watched in awe as the European Space Agency landed the Rosetta probe on a comet in a breath-taking display of technological and scientific prowess.

Science today has the power to inspire just as much as it always has, and today it is more important than ever that the scientific community capitalize on every opportunity it gets to re-engage, and to take on “the war on science,” if that is indeed what we have come to.

The power to inspire is not the only tool in the scientists’ toolkit. Repeated studies of who people trust continue to put —> Read More