Defending the Ivory Tower against the end of the world

Abstract

Science was once pure, unadulterated, and a source of public entertainment. Entertainment is now driven by celebrity, and choice is everywhere. Yet, many scientists still believe decision-makers will find and use their research to make science-based decisions. However, this is simply not the case. Articles are written in an inaccessible style, and access is often restricted. Thus, the Media acts as a gatekeeper, limiting stories to subjects directly related to human health, brief, feel-good human interest pieces that often include misinterpretations, oversimplifications, or (worse still) fair and balanced 1-1 discussions. Conversely, misinformation produced by those with economic interests is freely available and easy to find and understand. Yet, many scientists still avoid engaging or correcting factual errors in media and policy as this is often seen as Advocacy: impurity in the Ivory Tower existence, despite already advocating for their work when submitting grant proposals and permit applications. Meanwhile, damage is being done. A now-retracted paper linking autism to vaccinations induced a public movement that persists, with real-world implications for outbreak risks. Likewise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC)’s reputation is being actively sabotaged by ‘grassroots’ organisations that are heavily, if not exclusively, funded by Big Oil, delaying appropriate policy action. Many lives are actually at stake. Science is under siege, but hiding inside the Ivory Tower is not the answer. Science budgets are falling with the use of science in management decisions. We must leave the Ivory Tower, or science will perish inside the walls to the detriment of the world around us.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This problem with representation was well illustrated by “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg

  2. 2.

    Of course, it helps if it is also written in a way that they can understand it too. However, no document can influence policy if it remains unseen.

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Acknowledgments

This paper was produced without funding and the author has no conflicts of interest. Thanks are due to Naomi Rose, Dominick DellaSala, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this work.

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Correspondence to Andrew J. Wright.

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Wright, A.J. Defending the Ivory Tower against the end of the world. J Environ Stud Sci 5, 66–69 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-015-0227-y

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Keywords

  • Science
  • Funding
  • Advocacy
  • Outreach
  • Policy