Science hasn’t changed, our expectations have – in more ways than one. Science is merely a method for objectively observing and categorizing the world around us. The problem is that somewhere along the line, the decision was made that it could be bought and owned just like anything else. And why not? The land is ours to mine (and bomb), the sky is ours to soar, the sea is ours to pollute, and life is ours to poach. We want what we can’t have, and we’re willing to delude ourselves in order to get it.
Today, roughly two-thirds of the funding for scientific research in the U.S. comes from private sector companies. Government funds, representing the majority of the remaining third (charities and NGO’s being only a tiny portion), are mostly spent on military research and development. And many of the government agencies that control grant money are run by people who represent corporate interests. This creates problems because with money comes the illusion of ownership. When the powers that be feel entitled to their expected outcomes, it results in studies being ignored or, worse yet, deliberately altered. This is how we end up with fiascoes like the infamous Bush EPA climate change report, laden with so much red pen that it could have been mistaken for a hastily graded homework assignment. This is not science.
Worse yet, the problem isn’t exclusively top-down. The tendency toward sensationalism and hyperbole in our 24-hour news cycle has dramatically reduced our attention spans. We expect science to give us immediate answers and we expect those answers to be AWESOME. But nine times out of ten the results of a study are complicated and based on a number of assumptions, something that doesn’t make for much of a story. Instead of preparing us for reality, journalists would rather cheat by exaggerating and obscuring the truth. Ridiculous headlines like Sleeping on your right side ‘could put your unborn baby at risk’ (which, by the way, was not supported by the actual evidence) aren’t informative. They’re insulting.
These problems have already become systemic, but we can’t afford to be complacent. We are all entitled to pursue knowledge about the world and we are all impacted by policy decisions made as a result of quackery pretending to be science. Our first step is to become informed and, more importantly, fix our expectations. Money can’t buy facts, and science is about discovery – not super-sexy action news stories.
So why BetterBio? Because science is the victim, not the villain, and it’s time for it to make a comeback. There is still plenty of good, honest research being done, but it needs to be talked about and celebrated for what it is. The more we can learn from the legitimate science out there, the better equipped we will be to identify the riff-raff. Fortunately, we’re far smarter than the mainstream media would like to give us credit for. So while they’re off crying wolf about the dangers of sleeping on the wrong side, we’ll just go ahead and do their jobs for them.