Science for Progress

because science is fundamental in the 21st century


[reposted from facebook, Aug 2017]
(this has become a long text, if you go all the way down there will be concrete action plans for you ;))

Being a continuation of the March for Science, my main goal for Science for Progress is to raise awareness for the essential role that the natural and human sciences play in modern life, and to increase support for the scientific endeavor by the public and the governments they elect.

If we’ve learned one thing from the rise of the Western world, enlightenment, industrialization, and the digital age, then that ‘science works’ as a tremendous source of power for good or evil, by providing reliable knowledge through empirical evidence and thought models to understand and use it.

More importantly, we also have learned that distributing power from the elites to the people increases peace and prosperity among nations, and it works to keep the societal progress on a positive trend. Being part of a democracy thus comes with a lot of responsibility for every one of us to make informed decisions when choosing whom or what to vote for and why.

And the problems we are facing are becoming harder, and more global. Never before could the decisions a nation makes have impact literally everywhere in the world. In the 21st century, the natural and human sciences will be the single most important sources of knowledge necessary to find smart and sustainable solutions to such problems.

Sadly, be it for political reasons, reasons of ideology or religion, or financial reasons, often scientific insight suggests policies that would go against the interests of certain groups. In the information age these groups easily find ways to undermine the value of science and/or to question the integrity of scientific experts in the eyes of the public. While claiming to be ‘skeptical’ they use rhetorical confusion tactics to make the ‘mainstream scientific opinion’ less clear and less well-grounded than it actually is. The sole purpose being to stall and hinder important progressive policies that will benefit humanity as a whole. Most famous example of course, is the stalling of the introduction of penalties on carbon dioxide production and to stop subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. But this is only one of many fronts between somebody’s interests and science.

As member of the scientific community I find we relied too long on the general science-positive atmosphere of the last century and we were quite comfortable in our ivory tower. This made it easy to paint scientists as a bunch of elitists disconnected from the real world, and indeed the public often doesn’t prioritize scientific funding, and the stereotype of a scientist does not usually include caring for society. Next to the created vulnerability to attacks on scientific expertise, this led to factual stagnation or even de-funding of research in many countries, deteriorating infrastructure in public institutions for research and education, and precarious working conditions for a large proportion of academics.

The academic world is traditionally much less progressive than one would imagine. However, over 20 years after the internet became a global phenomenon, the scientific community is finally beginning to use it for more than publishing papers in PDF format, and communicating via email. We are working to become more transparent, open and accessible to the public thanks to the Open Science movement. We are starting fights with the private companies that publish our work while charging us unbelievably high fees. Twice! And the number of scientists who are willing to get in touch with people is rising rapidly.

I don’t want to turn everybody into a scientist, and I don’t want to just entertain with some cute science stories. I want to help make society be better in touch with academia and science, I want to help people understand the key scientific points behind issues that directly impact their lives, and I want to give them the tools to figure out fake from real news, and real skepticism from obfuscating denialism.

What is my goal for this community?

I am hoping to build an international online community of people from all backgrounds to further the appreciation of the scientific endeavor by the public with online content.

At the same time I want to get a local organizing team together, to have physical events in Lisbon.

While I already have one or two concrete ideas that I hope will create momentum, everybody is invited to suggest projects and to find like-minded people in the community to make them happen. These events, of course, should be directed at and in line with the goals of the community.

What have I done by now?

I have been pondering ideas since the March for Science, and I think I have a decent ‘battle plan’. 😉

  1. I’ve started to install communication.
    I secured the username @SciForProgress on facebook, twitter and Instagram (please follow!) so people can be quickly informed about what is happening with the community, and in future they will act for spreading the words about our events and maybe become social media outreach projects by themselves. (I’m also working on getting a YouTube channel)
  2.  I’ve started to think about the face of the community
    It is important to be recognized, so even though this is a completely private non-profit thing, a good ‘branding’ will help in the future. I’ve been posting first ideas on instagram. With help there should be a website
  3.  Getting in touch with the Portuguese academia
    Apart from getting people to join, I also want to know about the specific needs of academia in Portugal, which topics they find important and how Portuguese academia can be supported.
    From the March for Science I have a long list of (publicly available) emails to official contacts at Universities in Portugal. Right now it’s summer break, so I plan to contact them around mid September, when the semester is beginning. My hope is that there will be some friendly soul on the other end who might distribute the message on their internal communication paths.
  4. To learn more about the people who join I made this survey (please fill it out and distribute!).
    It is not the best of surveys, but certainly it’s a start 😉
  5. First local meeting
    Probably around the end of September I want to invite people in Lisbon to a meeting to get to know each other, have some discussions and come up with ideas. This includes pitches from people with ideas, including mine for a 2-3 day Science Convention in Lisbon.
    I have brainstormed general topics which would be useful for the cause, so people have something to work with when coming up with own ideas.

So, this is it for now, thanks for showing up and leave a comment if you have one!

about Dennis Eckmeier

Dennis founded Science for Progress. He received a PhD in neuroscience in 2010 in Germany. Until 2018 he worked as a postdoc in the USA, and Portugal. In 2017 he co-organized the March for Science in Lisbon, Portugal. Dennis is currently a freelancer.