The “War on Science” is a relatively new term caused by recent international governments undermining, devaluing, and defunding scientific institutions.
On Earth Day 2017, hundreds of thousands of people in cities around the world showed support through the March for Science. In arguably the largest scientific event in history, the March for Science indicates the poor state of affairs we find ourselves in. This response from scientists is a direct response to recent attacks on scientific institutions namely climate and environmental science. Destabilising the institutions that provide evidence-based decision-making to our elected officials is a dangerous slippery slope.
Devaluing science from modern civilisation is utterly incomprehensible, especially when one looks at history and the role science played in developing humanity to understand its environment, health, and security, and how crucial it is in all we take for granted today. Everything from procreation to the food we eat, our lifespan, and how we communicate have all been shaped through wondrous leaps in scientific milestones.
We all depend on science and it is arguably the single most import component to humanity's future. Science is for all and it's time we take science back from those who stole it.
At present, it may be that science is not just being devalued by the swift action of a single administration. The War on Science may have come from a compounding set of circumstances.
The "ivory tower" reputation of the science community is arguably focused on the commercialisation of innovative technology, understanding and developments underpinned and financially driven by the corporate sector, taking the benefits of science from the grasp of much of humanity. This high-level patent-locked scientific community has removed access, understanding and the benefit of scientific development and made it a user pays platform.
The reduction of curriculum-based science education at the early learning stage of state school education is leading to a future generation of science-illiterate members of the international community.
The immensely difficult task of communicating scientific knowledge to public without dumbing the message down to a level where the impact is lost, can be attributed to the reduction of standards in terms of how science is taught. How many of us remember the basic principles delivered to us during school science classes?
These core principles were taught because we all utilise science every day and understanding them is not just important to our day to day lives, but for when the day comes that a scientist needs to communicate a message we can understand. Science cannot be communicated in 140 characters or emoji list of pure nonsensical rubbish. A knowledge base in science is the single most important component of early school education because science continues in our daily lives and everywhere throughout our lifespan.
The importance of science has been slowly diluted across multiple areas of study. Over the past decade, climate change deniers have submitted the view to global communities that the greatest challenge to humanity is still under debate. Undermining such important areas of study that supply governments with information to make evidence based decisions on policy is nothing but dangerous to the stability of modern humanity.
Evidence-based decision making provided through scientific consensus is under threat, and it's time global citizens voice their concerns and support the future of science.
Historically, science has been undertaken in isolation from the public. This approach and attitude that the engagement of the public is not a core requirement may well be outdated. Citizen science has proven to be an invaluable component of scientific research. The engagement of citizen science principles has enabled researchers to undertake study in areas that in the past would not have been possible.
For instance, museums around the world are engaging armies of citizens with an interest in science and a will to do something useful, to digitise hand-written records of observations and specimens. Researchers, students and anyone who cares to look can see what was once only available by wading through dusty boxes in museum basements, drastically reducing time taken in data collection. Technical advances in mapping then allow analysis of these records in unprecedented complexity.
Citizen scientists typically need minimal training and usually do this at home, on their own computer and for free! Others are out in the field observing, reporting and mapping species, made easy by mobile phones that have apps for identification and GPS for location.
The engagement of citizen science has reminded us that we can all contribute and develop a greater understanding of the unknown in the endeavour of making the world a better place. Citizen Science enables large studies to be performed effectively especially with areas that cast a wide net of required data. The ability of Open Source platforms that enable people of all levels of society to contribute to larger data sets has proven to become an invaluable resource.
Science is imperative to our current and future generations. Reinvigorating scientific literacy is an investment in humanity and a blue-chip fund well worth investing.
A practical example:
Community revegetation work is almost always done by grassroots groups of interested and dedicated citizens who manage on shoestring budgets, unnoticed, rarely celebrated and often uncertain about the effectiveness of their efforts. This too is changing. Tools are developing fast and coming online so that the value of the work of such groups can be measured with open source software.
The Friends of Westgate Park in Melbourne Australia is one such example. Friends of Westgate Park are a well-organised community revegetation program that started work on this very neglected park almost 20 years ago. Lyn Allison, a committee member of the group is a local with a long history of environmental activism. Allison is well-connected, with a term on the Port Melbourne Council before it was abolished and 12 years in the Federal Senate with the Australian Democrats. Allison chaired the Senate environment committee and negotiated hundreds of amendments through the Senate to improve ground-breaking Federal environmental laws.
“The Friends of Westgate Park is a remarkable group that has quite simply transformed this 40-hectare park into a bushland gem of immense importance to biodiversity in inner Melbourne,” she says.
They have propagated and planted hundreds of thousands of locally indigenous species in nine distinct plant communities, based on the highly varied soil trucked in 30 years ago from building sites around Melbourne.
Member volunteers, corporate staff teams, service organisations, and workers from government departments are but some of those who have been recruited to mulch, weed and plant solidly for two or three days each week.
“It’s notionally managed by Parks Victoria but they have no budget for revegetation on any scale let alone what has been achieved,” says Allison.
There is no doubt that the revegetation has improved biodiversity. The park is now habitat for more than 150 bird species since counting began 15 or so years ago. The fruiting bodies (mushrooms) of at least 60 species of fungi appear in a good, wet winter. There are more and more spiders, bees, dragonflies, butterflies and moths, and they are clearly part of a developing ecosystem for birds, snakes, lizards, turtles and sadly foxes.
The city skyline is disappearing behind the treetops. Participants, marvel at endangered species like the woolly water lily regenerating across the lagoon, the delicate show of tufted bluebells in the Redgum Woodlands and the red, yellow and purple salt marsh around the lake edge. With roughly 70 per cent of the park now revegetated using the science of horticulture, the group wants to be able to answer other bigger questions about the health of plants: does the soil have all the necessary bacteria, fungi, nematodes, earthworms and insects to support them? Are they in ecological balance? Will the park ever function as a truly natural environment that has evolved largely undisturbed over millennia?
A quick look at Global Forest Watch shows that the Park has substantially increased the tree canopy cover.