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The Citizenship of Science

In an opinion column in Eos Magazine this week, University of Bergen researcher Øyvind Paasche and Stockholm University researcher Henning Åkesson are calling for scientists to be taught how to withstand political attacks on their work

Science is always under pressure, they write. For a clear example of such a threat, look at the treatment of climate science in the public sphere. The production and publication of the five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have been accompanied by attacks on climate science and individual scientists, "underscoring that once scientific results interfere with any powerful group's interests, politicization is inevitable," they note.

And with the rise of powerful leaders in the world who seem to deny facts as a matter of course, it's more important than ever that scientists are prepared to defend their work.

"What now can people who identify as scientists and citizens do?" Paasche and Åkesson ask. "We contend that the answer involves rethinking how we educate future professionals. We need to imbue students with a central value: Adherence to the scientific method is, in itself, good citizenship."

The authors cite the existence of several grassroots scientist groups, such as Voices for Science, which aims to train scientists in the science policy process and to communicate science to the media and the public. The European Geosciences Union has also recently started a dedicated journal on geoscience communication, which highlights the value of interaction between the scientific community and the public and policy makers.

"We need to start equipping students with the tools they need to navigate the politicized terrain of their future scientific paths," Paasche and Åkesson write. "[T]here is an urgency for scientists grabbing the reins themselves and showing leadership, but this initiative requires both the scientist and the citizen to work in tandem. A group called 314 Action seeks to harness such partnerships; they're a grassroots initiative promoting evidence-based science, supporting STEM scientists interested in getting involved politically, and training researchers who want to communicate policy-relevant science more effectively."

They add that the existence of these efforts shows that an increasing number of scientists recognize the value and urgency of engaging with society.

But while these efforts encouraging, they note, students also need to be equipped with the tools they need to navigate the politicized terrain of their future scientific paths.

"We foresee a visionary teaching platform addressing the challenges that come with scientific integrity in our new world," Paasche and Åkesson write. "An updated teaching platform for aspiring young scientists certainly aligns with the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, which states that research institutions and organizations should 'develop appropriate and adequate training in ethics and research integrity.' Such training is desperately needed."