The Need for Optimism In Science

We don’t need “better” science. We need bolder science.

The problem with these questions is they sound well-framed and scientific — and so we put our trust in the answers. In reality, these questions assume very particular things. In this case, the assumption is our inability to cooperate with one another, and our unwillingness to make personal sacrifices for the common good. These are understandable concerns (i.e. “will people do this?”), but not something that should be ruled out from the beginning (“people will never do this”).

Have We Asked Too Much of Science?

Paradoxically, one reason that “the science” hasn’t been bold enough, could be that we expect too much from it — while offering too little of our own effort.

Our transactional relationship with science causes science to have a transactional relationship with us.

One might argue that I have portrayed the public in an unfair, ignorant light. Isn’t that what we’re paying scientists for: to think about these technical, complex problems, so the average citizen doesn’t have to? Could this actually a reasonable way to view the role of science?

We view science as a thing we pour tax dollars into, and new drugs and cures come out. Science then models us as static actors who won’t change behavior… at best we’ll take a pill or wear a mask.

But I claim it is our transactional relationship with science, that causes science to have a transactional relationship with us. We view science as the thing we pour tax dollars into, and new drugs and cures come out. Science then models us as static actors, sticking to our old habits. The most they can hope to change our behavior is to get us to take a pill or wear a mask.

Science as a Central Forum

Science could tell us that there’s a real need — and opportunity — for neighbors and citizens to collaborate and take care of each other. It can help us understand the economic benefits of collaboration — how it’s in everyone’s best interest to come together — and point us toward particularly effective types of collaboration that will yield maximum savings (of both lives and dollars). It could call on us to be the best version of our selves, to take on some personal sacrifice in solving a collective problem.

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