Below is a proposal. A suggestion for how we can begin to combat the critical need to make science research relevant to the public and to congress.
We all know that every single human benefits from scientific findings. We know this benefit is not just the abstract benefit we get from knowing more of the truths in our world.
This benefit is inevitably a beautiful, tangible, super power.
The super powers can make your life better: a better tasting beer or caviar, a piece of clothing that smells better after a workout. These super powers can make your children’s lives better: an understanding of how to keep a world going that has elephants in it from a study on wasp behavior, the identification of a chemical culprit of allergies from an ecology study of dust, or a faster Internet from an understanding from ants of how we can transport data across diffuse networks.
Sometimes these superpowers even can save your grandchildren’s lives: an assay that will save your future granddaughter from a horrible childhood cancer, the creation of a pill that will save your future grandson from a tiny soil microbe that infiltrated his delicate body from a fall on the playground.
A pill that would only be possible because someone right now is studying the evolution of soil microbes across diverse arctic locations.
Science saves lives and makes the life you have more worthwhile.
But no one, I mean statistically, NO ONE understands this. Because right now it is a secret.
We know this from polling numbers and election results. But I know this personally all too well. I come from a family with connections to people that wield incredible financial and political power. Stupid amounts of money and power. Democrats and republicans. I grew up with these people. They are my neighbors, my friends, even some of my family members.
None of them know this. None.
So maybe there is a place in this knew world for a set of stories–even short ones, of how past basic research in ecology and evolution lead to tangible applications that people take for granted now? Something like a document, or book, or podcast, or infographic, or blog post..even a sticky note in a subway, that we could all point to when congress says “why are we wasting money funding science on ants when children are dying?” Something we can point to when the media asks “so why is this research important?” …. Something I can point to when I have to go to family cocktail parties in the next month and hear about the wasteful spending of our government.
Something I can clutch, close to my chest as I fight back the tears.
All we would need is everyone to put forth a few stories in total. A few stories that trace an application back to its eco evo, basic science origin. Not all applications have this origin, but some do. I’m sick of using penicillin as one of my only go-to stories.
And right now, I’m sick of feeling sick.
I know my research is relevant.
I know I squeeze 40 hours of work (at least) from every dollar of research money I earn.
I know we are job creators.
I know we produce the fuel for technological innovation.
I know as scientists we are a work force unparalleled in that we working too hard, for too little money, and at the end of the day we give our findings to the world. And you know what? We are *generally* ok with this. Because this is what we signed up for.
I know what we do is important. I know what we do is worth the money.
And I imagine you know this too.
But I know what you also know.
That right now we are all hovering on a dangerous precipice, where the few pennies that currently support ALMOST ALL of our nation’s research might be cut off.
No more money = No more science = No more future super powers.
So let’s share this beautiful secret with the world.