This week I’m in Boston doing some live stream work for a big scientific conference. I was filming a panel when a millennial chemist unexpectedly asked: “I have people in my own family who think that science is fake or what we are doing is made up or corrupt. How do I explain to them that not only science matters but that my science matters?”
In our increasingly polarized world where technology and science drive innovation and growth in all fields, people are being left behind. There is a huge gap between those who understand and those who don’t. Those who don’t understand can easily be manipulated by politicians who suppress scientific research to further their own political aims. Institutionally, this has been going on for years as documented by Chris Mooney in his 2005 book, The Republican War on Science.
One of things I really enjoy about what I do media-wise, is I get to meet lots of smart, innovative people and hear them talk about issues they are passionate about. The fact that young scientists are worried about being labeled “fake news” in their own families, shows me how far removed you can get from reality. This is scary because robots, AI (artificial intelligence), CRISPR, are not on the horizon. They are here today. We cannot afford to stay disengaged with science and technology.
So what’s a good answer to the millennial chemist? Given the billions of dollars spent by our federal, state and local governments on science and technology (including something as simple as local surveys), politicians need to insure that their constituencies have a sense of what’s going on, for real. Not some partisan spin meant only to get elected for one more cycle. We need political leaders who embrace science and technology. That means speaking up for science AND defending it when political hacks attack it. Making science, technology and innovation a partisan issue is very bad for our democracy.