Science stories to 
reflect on the history and future of science & society. By P. Gomez-Romero
 En español, por favor. En español
EDITORIAL
Popularizing Science


 
     Take a look at these two pictures and make the exercise of finding similarities and differences.

     To any scientist differences are obvious, huge, overwhelming. The urban graffiti on the left is a useless cryptic message, almost a signature, whereas the equation on the right is a meaningful mathematical expression of one key law of Nature. Comparison is almost insulting, some could say.
     I apologize if this hurts some sensibilities but we still need to ask ourselves for similarities. The truth is that to the common layperson both statements are equally cryptic. Both seem messages addressed to a narrow audience of “colleagues”. We must admit that our scientific communications are most of the time for our peers’ eyes only.

     Science has never been open to the public. It is not now, it wasn’t either back in the fifties, nor in Newton’s times, nor in the classical Greece. But among other things, the 20th century has witnessed a incessant growth of science, a remarkable growth that has led to recurring branching and hyperspecialization and also to a greater impact of science and technology on our society. This makes a difference. Our lives as individual members of a technological society have never been so hastily tied to the developments of the very technology that feeds our collective growth.  In our industrialized societies it is hard to find any aspect of our lives that has not been touched by technologies rooted into the science developed in the last 100 years. And that touch ranges from minute aspects of our private lives to global phenomena.
     Well-informed citizens are the best basis for a democratic society. In these days, as in the future, citizens  will have to be aware of the power of science, the blessings and also the responsibilities that come with a technologically advanced society.  For that, people need to know how science works, what it means, what scientist can and cannot do. This tells us of the need for divulgating science as broadly as possible, an activity that has been quite borderline to scientist themselves in the past but that will certainly increase in the near future.

     Science will keep growing into the next century. And it will do so with the great wonderful tools that has used in the past. A few trendy millennial distractions will not put the scientific method out of business. And mathematics will still be much more than our most elegant tool in the scientific endeavor. Specialization will keep growing and scientists will necessarily keep writing papers only fit to peer review. But in addition, as scientists, we have a responsibility to let people – and other scientists in different fields- know what we are doing. We need to let people discover what science is about.

 


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©Pedro Gómez-Romero, 1998,1999