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Science, science communication and political activism: a Letter by Joseph Roche and Nicola Davis

02/02/2017

Politics affect science research. Not only they determine how much funding are invested in innovation, but they can influence which fields of research get prioritized or sometimes even silenced.

The impact of changing diplomatic landscapes on citizens’ “faith in science” is the focus of the letter “Should the science communication community play a role in political activism?”, by Dr Joseph Roche, Astrophysicist and Assistant Professor in Science Education at Trinity College Dublin, and Nicola Davis, Neuroscientist who has worked as a researcher in Trinity College Dublin, Goettingen University and Imperial College London.

The authors reflect on the current “global rise of anti-establishment populism that has rocked the foundations upon which societal faith in science is built”, leading to events such as the “Brexit” or the U.S. current administration openly refusing scientific evidence on climate change. Providing examples of science communication communities reacting to discriminations and standing up for human rights, the authors wonder how to advise “undergraduate and postgraduate science students on their value to society, as well as their responsibilities”. They suggest for example that fighting against inequalities might be “easier” for researchers or communicators with job security, “(…) but for early-career scientists, students and freelancers, what is the best way to balance political activism and self-preservation?”.

Activism and the complex connections between science, science communication and politics have been the subject of several articles published on JCOM in recent years. A collection of five comments were published on 11 June 2015, under the title “The blurred boundaries between science and activism”, with an introduction from Andrea Bandelli. One of them is for example the article “Is it good science? Activism, values, and communicating politically relevant science”, by Gwen Ottinger, reflecting on the validity of citizen science conducted by community activists, as well as the comment “On activism of European researchers about science policy”, by Alain Trautmann, elaborating on the changes in “organization and functioning of research (…) over the last 10 or 20 years, as a result of a determined political action”.