Perhaps you have noticed our newly redesigned front page, and on that page, a link to the Rightful Place Project. In his inaugural address, President Obama promised to restore science to its “rightful place”. Seed Media Group is starting a dialog in response, asking the question “What is science’s rightful place?”, through Seed Magazine and ScienceBlogs. Our benevolent overlordz have asked us to offer our thoughts in response to this question.
You’ll see at the Rightful Place page that you can submit your own thoughts on this question, and there is a link to the Rightful Place blog to read what other people have said. I am particularly fond of Isis’s contribution.
In thinking about my own answer, I decided to ask a few non-scientist acquaintances what they thought about the question.
One friend answered immediately, “I’d just be happy to have politicians start listening to scientists again, and stop censoring government scientists.”
Another was concerned with the need for accountability in science, with not assuming that science could give us the answers to everything, and taking into account that people can use or twist scientific evidence to support their own ideological ends. Science, she felt, was not necessarily always completely objective. How do we decide which questions are worth asking? What gets funded? Who counts as an expert? She didn’t want to worship at the altar of scientific objectivity to the exclusion of these concerns.
A third friend seemed somewhat befuddled by the very question itself. Science’s rightful place? What does that even mean? Wouldn’t science’s rightful place be in the hands of scientists, the people doing the science?
And I suppose that last answer brings me to my own thoughts on the question. If science belongs in the hands of the scientists – just whose hands are we talking about? Who is it that gets to do science? Some of us are concerned about whether or not scientists are being listened to. My concern is that once we are willing to listen, who is it that we are willing to listen to?
On the Rightful Place main page, Seed proclaims “History will call this the birth of our scientific renaissance.” I hope the renaissance will include throwing the doors open to wider participation by formerly excluded groups of people.
UPDATE: This contribution by Chris Rowan is freakin’ fantastic. Go read it.