I am an advocate at my core. I am passionate about democracy and civics; culture and philosophy and I care deeply about systemic issues that impact social justice and equality, education, health, and the environment. This passion has always been part me.
I grew up in a family who valued service, giving to the community, and looking after others. My passion, though, became augmented during a research project I undertook during graduate school called the Citizen Divide, Time for a Change of Mind. The research focused on divisions in society that lend to distrust and, in turn, limit progress.
Today, I find myself working for the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research using my passion to promote the public’s trust in biomedical research and its ethical conduct. Out of this intersection between passion and work, civics and science I am coordinating the Annual Life Science Celebration with the aptly named theme Speak Up for Research. This blog series explores the civics issues facing science.
Over the past three years I have been dwelling on the question: Why are we divided? This question has transformed into research on how narratives influence human behavior, social norms and ultimately outcomes for society and public policy. My interest is in learning about the possibilities of influencing behavior to create societal norms that lead to collective understanding and amity in society. My findings center on the need for more collaboration between people with divergent views, cultural and social backgrounds as well as people from various socioeconomic circumstances. Ultimately, I envision a world where human dignity is upheld and where political conversation is not bemoaned. My hope is that civic discourse will entail a process of learning and developing collective understandings that limit discontent and disenfranchisement.
These ideas translate well to the mission of NWABR. When one considers the challenging questions facing the medical research industry, science, and society, one realizes that collectively we have many difficult questions to answer. These are more than questions about scientific data or knowledge; these are questions about our values. For example, what place does stem cell research have in medicine and society, and what conversations should we be having to facilitate its progress?
This question and others remain unanswered in the general public, and, like the safety of vaccines, the use of animals in research these issues persist without deliberative dialogue and often in a contentious manner. Science has witnessed several periods of revolution of thought and faced enormous obstacles, yet it has been the fundamental mechanism for formulating our collective understanding of our world. Is our society at an inflection point now? Is science at the forefront of that inflection? The polarization becomes evident when we analyze the state of public opinion in contrast with scientific understandings.
The Pew Research Center published a report, Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society, based on surveys from U.S. adults and a separate survey of scientists who belonged to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The report cites several examples where the body of scientific knowledge contrasts sharply with the views held by the general public. On issues from using animals in research, evolution, climate change, and more, public opinion is divergent from the general scientific consensus. What’s more is that we continually see this translating into our formulation of public policy.
Additionally, we continue to see growing mistrust of institutions of all types, and the messages of animal activists are becoming more succinct and powerful. This is a worrying trend, especially when it leads to barriers and obstacles to positive progress. It seems, then, that we are at a crossroad, and we need to evaluate our course of action and approach to public discourse. The Speak Up for Research Gala is an idea that offers, at the very least, an approach and space to envision a new path forward.
What would that path look like? Look for my next blog to find out more, and Join us for the Speak Up for Research Gala