Be a science activist | Tim Dixon | TEDxCERN


Translator: Marwa Mahmoud
Reviewer: Denise RQ What’s the next great
revolution in science? Is it nano-bots cruising our blood stream,
wiping out cancer cells? Solutions to global hunger? Is it a clean energy revolution
that delivers 100% renewable energy? Maybe it’s applications
of theoretical quantum mechanics, that transcend us since of temporality and the universal human spatial geography, or as they say in the movies, time travel. Or maybe, it’s some
of that amazing research that’s being done by scientists
in Edinburgh with a new bio-film protein to see if we can extend
the melting of ice cream. Or maybe, it’s just video conferencing
technology that actually works. Whatever it is, we live in
an extraordinary time of change and scientific discovery, and progress; a golden age that can deliver
so much for the common good. But will that happen? That depends on how well we’re guided by the science
and especially those in power. But more and more, the authority
of science is being challenged. One person’s anti-science opinion based
on something they read on the Internet, or something that just concocted
to suit their own agenda gets as much air time as someone else’s based on decades
of peer-reviewed research. These false equivalency debates
play out on the airwaves everyday, and they’re driving some alarming trends. Science budgets are being slashed. Scientific advice is losing traction
with decision makers, because they think
the public just doesn’t care. Look to America. Since 2010, the budget sequester has cut
24 billion dollars from science funding. Senior members of Congress
want the power to veto any science funding that they dislike,
such as all of climate science. State governors ban
even the use of the words “climate change” and “global warming”
by their environmental agencies. Presidential candidates
advance their aspirations by completely confounding medical science and coddling
the anti-vaccination movement, or putting perfectly
healthy people into quarantine in the middle of the Ebola scare. And it’s not just America. Science budgets are being slashed from Britain, France, the European Union, across to Canada, Brazil,
United States, and Australia. Other governments
are clamping down on science. Russia has shut down the top
private science foundation. Turkey’s government has seized control
of its Science Academy and jailed independent scientists. It wasn’t always like this. Back in the 20th century,
it was different; science captured the public imagination. People believed that science
could advance the interests of humanity. Science had a vision
for the future of civilization. Millions of people went
to the world’s fair event. Children got science kits for Christmas. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, eating space food sticks and astronaut ice cream
which never melts. But things have changed. Well, there were the kooks
and the anti-science crowds then, but they didn’t have a grip on power. Now, things are different; and the challenge in the digital age
is to turn that around because we need science. Science needs to have the cultural authority,
the respect, and resources that it once had to embrace
the challenges that humanity now faces. Of course science has many assets, has wonderful science communicators like Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson,
and Brain Cox It has got a committed following, and some fantastic
television shows and movies. But science doesn’t currently possess
the mainstream cultural imagination of the West. In the digital age, it will require more
than just marketing and public relations because the dynamics of power
and influence have changed so much. Culture change now is driven much less by elites
and much more by the crowd, by people-powered movements. We have seen the power
of movements throughout history. It took a movement to end the slave trade, a movement to enact civil rights,
and to advance equality for women. But today we’re seeing the rise
of 21st century movements that are more nimble,
more global, and lighter. These movements are able to coordinate
and mobilize people in an instant, and sometimes achieve
sweeping changes almost overnight. I am convinced that people power
could be the most positive force for social change in the 21st century. That’s why I walked out in my job
working with the prime minster to work and dedicate my time
to movement building. Because I told myself, “I don’t want to just work the system.
I want to help to change the world.” I’ll give you one example. I’ve been working to mobilize people in the crisis in Syria
for the past two years. We’ve run a whole bunch of campaigns,
mobilized hundreds of thousands of people, and in the midst of a terrible
humanitarian catastrophe, at least achieve
some small positive gains. But all of that impact
was eclipsed in a moment by one photograph, a haunting photograph, of the little boy, Aylan Kurdi,
washed ashore. Suddenly, the world awoke to the crisis, and European governments acted in ways that they’d said were impossible
just a few days before. Why? What happened? It was because
a 21st century movement arose. It started with small acts of compassion: German families welcoming in refugees
at Munich railway station with bottles of water,
sweets, and balloons. And then it just caught fire
across a continent creating the space and the pressure
for governments to act with compassion. But it’s not just social movements
that understand people power, business is being transformed as well. Airbnb is now the world’s largest
provider of accommodation, Uber is the most valuable
startup in history, and there is a myriad
of crowdfunding platforms that are revolutionizing funding
for innovation and the arts. So, what could it be like if science could harness people power? What would it look like if science embraced the gravitational
force of movement building? There is no formula
for building a movement, and no two movements look alike. So, we’re not talking about millions of people marching out
on the streets for mitochondria; but the potential is there, if across the ecosystem of science, the power of movement thinking
can be harnessed. So let me ground that
in a few practical examples. Firstly, communicate a cause. Science has always had an amazing cause: the quest to unlock
the secrets of the Universe, to deepen an appreciation
for our existence, to improve life upon the planet. Science also has a powerful cause
for future generations to overcome ignorance,
prejudice, and the cover ups as science has done in the past with big tobacco,
with polluting industries, and is doing now
with the fossil fuel firms who funds so much pseudoscience. Two; tell a powerful story; find ways to connect science
to the big questions of our age. What’s wrong in our world?
What do we need to do? Science had a very powerful story
in the 20th century, but that’s not the story for now
– the triumphalist’s story of the 1950s – it needs to be different, it needs to resonate
with the 21st century audience. Three; engage people emotionally. The generation that saw
Neil Armstrong land on the Moon, remember that moment forever because emotions are so much more
powerful than just facts; this potential to engage people and to touch them,
through their hopes and dreams, and the things they value
the most, with science. For example, 600, 000 people just participated in a massive crowd-sourced science
monitoring experiment in Britain called the Big Garden Birdwatch. Why? Not because the British
are suddenly interested in changing migratory patterns of birds. But because there is
no force more powerful to move the emotions
of the British than their gardens. Four: harness the power
of social networks not hierarchies. Obviously, research papers
and formal lecture series are not the way to reach
the broader public. We need to reach people
where they are: in their social networks, the places where they engage
with new ideas form their identities, meet other people. Those networks are being powerfully
used by the anti-science groups to spread their nonsense; they can be used even more
powerfully for science. It strikes me as a movement builder that science has a lot of very deeply
committed networks of people but often they’re in silos. What would it mean, if some of those networks
could be brought together and mobilized for a larger cause? Five: build broad coalitions. Don’t just reach out to the already committed
and already interested. Create unexpected alliances. Think of how the HIV/AIDS cause
was transformed 15 years ago when an unexpected ally came on board. The story of mother-to-baby transmission converted religious conservatives from being challengers
to becoming champions. and suddenly, there was
this broad coalition from physicians, and the LGBT community, to evangelicals. And it was that which convinced
the Bush administration to act and save the lives of millions of people
through antiretroviral treatments. Six: don’t just create audiences,
create activists. 21st century movements are built
through mass participation, through people discovering
a sense of their own agency. Nothing deepens someone’s commitment
to a cause more than meaningful action. So, for example, I am working on a future movement
with a goal of ending avoidable blindness and eyes scans, people’s retinas, are a key way in which we can do that. But they are expensive
and there is a shortage of doctors. So London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital
is testing crowd-sourcing, taking ordinary people
with no formal medical training and having them check those scans, and the results are hugely promising
with a high level of accuracy. Seven: think about power and build it. Movements in the 21st century are about more than just campaigns,
events, and hashtags. They think about root causes. The world is as it is, because of the structures of power. If you want to change things,
you build power, and you exercise that power
at the moments that really matter. Science needs a people power revolution to overcome humanity’s
greatest challenges, to realize our greatest dreams, and to build a tomorrow where every child has ice cream
that doesn’t melt. (Applause)

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