I believe that for most people science seems to be a disconnected discipline, practised by isolated, wool-gathering men and women. I too can hardly stop myself agreeing with them when surveying the daring fashion choices of our university’s academics. I worry that this misconception causes a lack of interest in the fate of science and its future funding. So, why should we care about science?
Most students are aware enough to recognise the past achievements of science in their daily lives. All of our current luxuries are products of a scientific foundation: the principles of physics going into every electrical item, of chemistry into every household item, and of biology into everything you eat and everything in your medicine cabinet. But these are dusty trophies of a past generation of science. What is it doing for us now? Why should we care about what the white coat wearing men and women of today are doing?
The most obvious answer is that science is still producing information that is improving day-to-day lives, not just for us – the comparatively rich – but worldwide. This was best exemplified through the life works of Dr. Norman Borlaug. The work of Borlaug and his team in agricultural improvements – namely creating disease resistant, dwarf varieties of crops – may save 8 billion lives by 2025. Few can ever hope to help the world as he did, but that doesn’t stop the research continuing.
New materials and technologies are also allowing us to revolutionise the way we do things at home and abroad; carbon fiber that once was limited to the construction of aerospace technology and F1 cars is now cheap enough for us to implement in industry and in consumer goods such as sporting equipment. These days nanotechnology is being implemented in everything from sunscreens to computers.
In the coming years, science will produce a mountain of gadgets that you won’t be able to live without. Due to limited space I have left out advances in medicine, as the merits of sprayable skin for burn patients, and grow-your-own organs are obvious. These laboratories provide jobs for thousands and do make money. However, without investment, subsidies and education, we risk harming their progress and sacrificing jobs.
Though the above reasons provide a case for science that would be put to investors or governments, many scientists feel that this misses out the reason that really impassions them.
Though not my first defence, the true reason we care about science is that, at its core, it is the search for understanding. Science is a tool that regular men and women use to pursue truth, despite knowing that certain truths may always elude them. This pursuit is in itself valuable, much like art, literature and beer tasting. It is human.
Though often those I talk to will scoff at the researcher who devotes their life to the understanding of a tiny creature, or the solution of the equation for why dripping honey forms spirals as it lands, I implore them to see its value. This is especially true when their life’s works fail to fully answer the question; uncovering truth in the universe is just as valuable as interpreting the truths of the universe in art.
Why should we care about science? Because it enriches us; economically, culturally and intellectually. Science isn’t dull, cold and clinical; it is radiant, warm and human. Though I answer by saying “look at its benefits”, I am remembering Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know and all ye need to know.”