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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.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