In IBSA Updates

These days our world is full of misconceptions. Think of flat earthers, for example. If phenomena like this occur, if there is no longer any difference between science and science fiction, then it means that we scientists have failed to get the right message across about the very nature of science itself.

At this point, you think: well, why do science then? What is the purpose of doing science?

For me it is simple: I want to know how the universe works. If you start with this basic curiosity and go on, you reach particle physics. And in no time you find yourself in the CERN tunnel, working with the largest particle accelerator experiment in history.

We physicists — like other scientists — have a series of very difficult, yet fascinating, questions ahead of us to explore: what is 95% of the universe made of? Do we really live in a multiverse? Why is gravity so much weaker than the other forces?

However, many people today look at basic science like particle physics and ask an additional question: what does society get out of all this research? The answer is obvious to me, because the answers are clear, scientifically, technologically, and practically. But the fact that people ask this question demonstrates a misunderstanding of what science is, and means that we must improve our ability to communicate science’s methods and intentions.

Changing people’s points of view on research is difficult, but one way to do so is to return to the fundamental questions that drive the scientific pursuit.  Who are we? Where are we going? How does the world around us work? Humans are naturally fascinated by these philosophical questions, because we are curious about how nature works, and framing our research in this way is very powerful in communicating science to the public.

Science belongs to everyone: it is a basic human aspiration, and I consider trying to satisfy it to be my main task — but it is not my only task. Conducting research with your colleagues is just the starting point, and it is easy to just speak with close colleagues all day long. It is harder, and more rewarding, to engage with people who are not specialists in your field. To communicate your research to others should not be secondary, because we are all human: powers of persuasion and the ability to communicate are just as important in research as they are in the outside world.

Communication is fundamental. For me, the most important moment is not when a new idea comes to me, or when I create a new method, or when I publish an article or speak at a conference. The most important moment is when I speak in a science museum and a student puts their hand up and asks me a clever, curious question about dark matter.

There is another reason why the moment shared by a scientist and non-specialist is fundamental: it can be one of the most effective ways to counteract anti-scientific attitudes, and it can help to dissuade people about many pseudoscientific convictions, which is one of the most important problems facing the world today.

Think for a second about the consequences of what we are experiencing: the current trend towards pseudoscientific thought contributes, for example, to not effectively combatting global warming, or to irrational distrust of vaccines, or to the discredited concept of “race science”.

The task of scientific dissemination is very clear and can be summarized in a single message: science is not a secret, elitist endeavor, but is the best method that we humans have at our disposal to answer fundamental questions. And science should belong to everyone.

James Beacham

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