Editorial – The how and the why

By . Published on 20 August 2015 in:
August 2015, Editorial,

Democracy relies on an educated population. High quality schools and teachers, classrooms open for all and interesting and exact teaching materials help to teach successive generations. The western world has known 70 years of peaceful co-existence. And although there is considerable turmoil in the world, parts of Asia, Africa and South America are also experiencing unprecedented growth. There are more people that are receiving a high quality education than ever before.

One of the things that educated people do is ask questions. They want to understand the how and the why of things. Some commentators conclude that this is the end of authority, and that the public no longer respects people in authority. I think that the public, thanks to their education, is no longer willing accept a thing is so merely because someone with a title says so. Those that are in positions of authority, or represent themselves as experts need to be aware of the pedagogy necessary to explain the how and the why to the general public because ultimately, in a democracy, it is the citizens who decide.

Scientists are in a position of authority and are experts in their respective fields. As educated people and researchers, they are in the front line when it comes to asking the questions relating to the how and why. And they also need to take the lead in explaining to policy makers and the general public the importance of their research. It is essential to defend basic research (see the recent EPS statement on the funding of basic science). But it is also important to highlight the relation between science and society

The world is facing a number of major challenges, including sustainable energy, health, security and food supply. Scientists and researchers, including physicists understand that their research is often directly, and almost always peripherally related to these challenges. Instead of feeling that their place as authorities and experts is being called into question when asked to justify their research, it is essential that they accept their fundamental role in educating and providing answers as to the how and the why.

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