[Vision2020] 1-11-18 Skepticalscience.com: Science under siege in 2017: 5 essential reads

Ted Moffett starbliss at gmail.com
Sun Jan 14 19:01:13 PST 2018

 Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett

With science under siege in 2017, scientists regrouped and fought back: 5
essential reads
Posted on 11 January 2018 by Guest Author

by Maggie Villiger <https://theconversation.com/us/team#maggie-villiger>,
Science + Technology Editor, *The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation
<http://theconversation.com/>. Read the original article

2017 may well be remembered as the year of alternative facts and fake news.
Truth took a hit, and experts seemed to lose the public’s trust. Scientists
felt under siege as the Trump administration purged information from
government websites
appointed inexperienced or adversarial individuals
science-related posts
and left important advisory positions
empty. Researchers braced for cuts to federally funded science.

So where did that leave science and its supporters? Here we spotlight five
stories from our archive that show how scholars took stock of where
scientists stand in this new climate and various ways to consider the value
their research holds for society.
1. A risk to standing up for science

In April, the March for Science mobilized more than a million protesters
worldwide to push back against what they saw as attacks on science and
evidence-based policy. But some people in the research community worried
about a downside
to scientists being perceived as advocates

Emily Vraga, assistant professor in political communication at George Mason
University, put the conundrum this way

“On one hand, scientists have relevant expertise to contribute to
conversations about public policy…. On the other hand, scientists who
advocate may risk losing the trust of the public.”

Maintaining that trust is imperative for scientists, both to be able to
communicate public risks appropriately and to preserve public funding for
research, she wrote.

Vraga and her colleagues’ research suggests that scientists don’t lose
credibility when they advocate for policies based on their expertise. But
there’s a distinction to be made between advocacy and mere partisanship –
statements motivated by the science are received differently than if
they’re perceived as driven by political beliefs.
2. Rhetorical tools at the ready


Protesting is one thing, communicating a message is another. Peter Cedric
Rock Smith, CC BY-NC-ND <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/>

With the feeling that there’s a “war on science” afoot, savvy scientists
are thinking about how to defend their work. University of Washington
professor of communication Leah Ceccarelli says they can look toward the
field of rhetoric
for help in how to get their messages across. She writes:

“Before dismissing this recommendation as a perverse appeal to slink into
the mud or take up the corrupted weapons of the enemy, keep in mind that in
academia, ‘rhetoric’ does not mean rank falsehoods, or mere words over

It’s about building persuasive arguments, built on solid foundations, she
says. Rhetoricians study effective communication – and they’re happy to
open their toolbox to scientists.

Indeed, the science of science communication
is becoming a hot area of inquiry, as practitioners investigate and
for effectively spreading accurate scientific information
3. What you miss out on when science gets cut

Scientists are always scrambling to secure funding for their research, and
during the first year of the Trump administration, it seemed science
projects were consistently on the budget chopping block.

Christopher Keane, the vice president for research at Washington State
University, made the case that federal funding for science ultimately revs
up regional economies
particularly when scholars within academia join forces with entrepreneurs
in the private sector:

“Thousands of companies
<http://www.sciencecoalition.org/downloads/AMI_v3_4-17-17.pdf> can trace
their roots to federally funded university research. And since the majority
of federally funded research takes place at America’s research universities
– often in concert with federal labs and private research partners – these
spinoff companies are often located in their local communities all across
the country.”

4. Slashing science projects hurts workers

Ohio State University economist Bruce Weinberg described how a unique data
set <http://iris.isr.umich.edu/> allowed him and his colleagues to actually
follow the money
on federally funded scientific research. Using administrative data, they
were able to identify everyone paid to work on a research project, not just
the few who appear as authors on any culminating journal articles.

“This is valuable because we’re able to identify students and staff, who
may be less likely to author papers than faculty and postdocs but who turn
out to be an important part of the workforce on funded research projects.
It’s like taking into account everyone who works in a particular store, not
just the manager and owner.”

The majority of people employed on research projects turn out to be
somewhere in the training pipeline, whether undergraduates, graduate
students or postdocs.

And to do all that work, Weinberg points out, labs need to purchase
everything from “computers and software, to reagents, medical imaging
equipment or telescopes, even to lab mice and rats.” Cut the federal
funding for science and the economic effects will ripple out far beyond
just university science buildings.
5. Basic research powers later patents

Skeptics may wonder: What’s the big deal? So we take a few years off from
funding some basic research. Does basic research really matter? As
Northwestern University’s Benjamin F. Jones and Mohammad Ahmadpoor put it

“‘ivory tower’ view of academic endeavors suggests that science is an
isolated activity that rarely pays off in practical application. Related is
the idea that marketplace innovation rarely relies on the work of
universities or government labs.”

But is that right? To find out if basic research actually does lead to
usable practical advances, they designed a study to investigate
<https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aam9527> the links between patentable
inventions and scientific research. Jones and Ahmadpoor created a “social
network” style map, which connects patents and science papers using the
reference citations in each. They found that:

“Among research articles that receive at least one citation, a full 80
percent could be linked forward to a future patent. Meanwhile, 61 percent
of patents linked backward to at least one research article.”

It’s impossible to predict which basic research projects will be important
in the marketplace, but they wrote that a very high share of scientific
research does link “forward to usable practical advances. Most of the
linkages are indirect, showing the manifold and unexpected ways” in which
basic research can ultimately pay off.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://mailman.fsr.com/pipermail/vision2020/attachments/20180114/b0d8ade7/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list