March for Science Credit Doug Duffy

March for Science: reaching out for bottom-up governance

As top-down governance gives signs of obsolescence, it is time to adopt greater bottom-up input from scientists into policies influencing our lives

We are living through very puzzling times. Times where the unexpected, the counter-intuitive and the irrational make headlines. One example stands out in the wake of Brexit, as we face the possibility that nations of the European Union should follow the same route!  We, as citizens, may be subjected to models of governance edging towards nationalism and authoritarianism principles.

In this scenario, political power is built on a populist strategy integrating alternative facts and fake news as the new norm. In such an increasingly polarised world, the abundance of intellectual dishonesty and denialism contribute to the establishment of a post-truth society. This is particularly concerning in relation to issues of scientific relevance, such as climate change, health policy or the origin of our universe.

The truth is, evidence from scientific research is not valued enough. In such political realm, top-down governance is reinforced, rewarding private interests based on manipulation, fear, anger and ignorance.

We, as scientists, are ignorant of many things too, outside our own field of expertise! But, we are also influenced by our strong belief in what we know from our scientific work. With this attitude, we sometimes come across as being dogmatic and arrogant to those outside our field.

However, we are educated to search for relevant observations and robust knowledge that can be objectively analysed. We are thus puzzled to see how scientific evidence can be negatively judged by people rejecting what is named “the system” or “the experts.” We are also puzzled because the applications of science and their use for purposes other than the common good make the situation worse.

This realisation has, in part, prompted daring US scientists to plan the March for Science in Washington, DC, on 22nd April 2017, to coincide with Earth day. Three weeks after the initial plans for the Washington March emerged, several hundred cities appeared on the March for Science world map. We are now close to one hundred supporting Marches in the EU!

Governance rebooted

This movement demonstrates that scientific communities now have the tools to self-organise—thanks to technology and communication networks linking existing communities. This heralds the start of an era where unprecedented levels of bottom-up activity will contribute to defining meaningful solutions to problems in our society. In effect, this challenges the established top-down governance models; questioning whether they are fit for purpose.

Now that technology has made it possible to directly survey the views of citizens, we have a unique opportunity for harness bottom-up insights–particularly from scientists–to inform policy. The trouble is that the mechanisms for such bottom-up governance have not yet been fully elucidated. As part of the solution, the input of the humanities and deeper philosophical questioning could help us inform future decisions in the way our lives are governed.

This could mean that history has come full circle. Indeed, the emergence of the scientific method itself, which stems back to the Age of Discovery where philosopher and humanists pool their influence together throughout Europe. That time saw many exchanges and interactions blossoming on the grassroots, in both the political and the educational scenes, which, at that time, were controlled by an absolute top-down order.

Some already welcome such trend. The European Commission,  for instance, is supporting many initiatives on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).  Going one step further, the authors of the  Brussels Declaration today provide 20 ethics and practice principles to ensure greater bottom-up contribution from scientists to inform future science and society policy.

Call for contributions

More importantly, each of our readers can also become involved. We strongly support this needs for a pan-European involvement of many scientists in shaping future policies. To do so, scientists have to participate both in local and global actions designed to reinforce a democracy for and by citizens.

Specifically, as a member of the EuroScientist readers’ community or the Homo scientificus europaeus (HSE) grassroots movement, you have a role to play. We invite you to read and comment on the content published in EuroScientist and in its HSE blog or to engage with our Facebook or LinkedIn pages. Feel free to knock on the door of EuroScience to become a member.

We would like to invite you to send us testimonies outlining your involvement in your local March of Science everywhere in Europe and beyond. We are planning to publish selected contributions in the coming weeks and on the day of the event. Just contact us at hse@euroscience.org

If you wish to support our approach, help us to help you! Just follow this route.

Gilles Mirambeau (HSE community Manager)

&

Sabine Louët (EuroScientist Editor)

Photo credit: Doug Duffy

Sabine Louët

Sabine Louët

Editor at EuroScientist
Sabine has a passion for all things related to European research. A physicist by training, she has been covering stories in life science, the physical sciences, technology, policy and innovation for the past 20 years. She was previously the news editor at Nature Biotechnology. She was also involved in the creation of AlphaGalileo. She is the Founder of SciencePOD translating complex science and tech concepts into high-quality articles written in simple language.
Sabine Louët

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8 thoughts on “March for Science: reaching out for bottom-up governance”

  1. Bottom-up or top-down, both miss the connection problem. We have plenty of perspectives, plenty of information, plenty of options, but we have lacked a way to integrate those perspectives in a highly effective way.

    Recent research into the science of conceptual systems lets us evaluate the structure of our understanding – to measure how well we understand a situation. Some basics here: http://meaningfulevidence.com/wp-content/uploads/science_of_conceptual_systems1.pdf

    We are making great strides in our ability to integrate perspectives: https://askmatt.solutions/
    And to get the information online to improve decision making: For a simple example: https://kumu.io/BernadetteWright/be-at-home-foundation-map for something a bit more complex: https://kumu.io/Steve/integrated-map-plus

  2. If scientist want their views taken more seriously than those of the non-scientist, they should stand apart from the hysteria gripping many parts of the political spectrum. Trump has no science policy. (Trump does not even think in terms of policies.) He has yet to submit a budget let alone suggest specific cuts to specific areas of science. Protesting on the basis of what he might do hardly seems like a scientific position.

    If we want to understand where Trump gets his ideas perhaps we should look in the mirror. His contradictory statements on vaccinations, for example, are the end result of a flawed study that scientists once released claiming a connection between vaccinations and autism. The claim was taken up and popularized by a number of Hollywood stars many of whom still promote the theory despite the weight of newer studies that find no such connection. So instead of accepting prize money from Hollywood celebrities at glitzy dinners (i.e., Breakthrough awards), scientists should be more critical of positions promoted by the film industry.

    For twelve years now Germany has been ruled by a physicists and her on-again, off-again attitude toward nuclear power was not the result of reasoned, principled, scientific decision making. And her decision to rely on coal to fill the gap between now and the day renewable energy takes over has been roundly criticized by top climate scientists.

    And scientist must come to terms with the fact that half the scientific community is working against society. They are involved in genetic engineering that the public wants no part of, they are building nuclear weapons, they have eviscerated our privacy through advanced technology, and they are building the machines that kill efficiently and remotely and were featured so prominently in the drone wars of Obama (a Nobel Prize winner by the way).

    In short: less hysteria and more humility is in order. If we scientists want to be taken more seriously than other groups we need to act more seriously.

    1. More seriously and closer to the needs of our world to trace a route that should deserve the future of our children. This is now time to promote a transversal debate within the scientific community with the aim to let grow these new cultural roots provided by Open Science and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Post-post-truth! Humanities are strongly requested at the center of the global education.

    2. I think it is naive to assume that Trump’s anti-science stance and funding cuts are based on actual scientific controversies as you imply with regard to vaccinations. His policies only serve his cronies and his own self interest. He has absolutely no esteem for science. How else could he deny climate change for instance where the scientific community stands united? But the US is a bit of a special case it seems as the majority of people there are still in denial evolution as well. So Trump could only thrive in a place like this because there is already a fairly strong base of ignorance and misinformation present in that country. Given the constant attacks on and downsizing of the public education system, this is not going to change in the near future.

      Regarding Germany, that country has relied on coal to meet it’s energy needs for over a century. Only since the advent of the Green movement in the 80’s has coal been phased out and renewables taking its place. With regard to nuclear power, I am not sure what “reasoned, principled, scientific decision making” would look like there. Is it safe? No! Do we need it? Yes, until the alternatives have been built up. After all, politicians will not be re-elected if the lights go out. Politicians do need to take the popular sentiment into consideration, even if it is sometimes at odds with scientific facts. I am not saying I like it but such is democracy. All we can do is educate.

    3. These Marches will be very serious, but also with a high motivation for the scientists to share their preoccupations with the society asking for an open science in an open world. Budget cuts in the US research reminds those done in Spain several years ago, where the spanish governement also ruined the great initiatives for the local development of renewable energies. His president was a climate change denialist at this time.