“Come on, mate, you do science…”
It seems to be general opinion that, because someone studies a science subject, they can calculate how much pain a squash ball to the arse would cause. Joking or otherwise, this is an example of that fabulous – and only a little bit ironic – general student opinion. That those studying humanities are well adjusted and normal, and those who wear lab coats are not to be approached; that science as a whole should be left in its cage. Do not feed the nerds.
But why does this ingrained image persist? Robert Boyle was referred to as the father of modern Chemistry, but held the title of a Natural Philosopher. There were no distinctions between philosophy and science back then. It seems that science and scientists are wrongly set apart from the rest of normal life. I think that blame instead falls in large part on one photograph: the iconic portrait of Albert Einstein with his tongue out. A quick Google image search of ‘scientist’ brings up a myriad of lookalikes, most of whom have white hair, glasses and lab coat, and generally don’t look like sociable chaps. It’s a shame that this is the enduring image that symbolises this prejudice, as it could so easily have been the rather well dressed Einstein at the age of twenty-six, when he published his really ground-breaking papers. Back then he was somewhat of a ladies’ man, so I’m told.
“The sciences don’t need more money…”
Science is big in Britain as well. Statistics that came out of the Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills in mid-October are being loud-speakered by UK science bodies, and show that Britain has 11% of the world’s global paper citations, and 14% of the world’s most highly cited papers. All this from a country with 1% of the world’s population, and 4% of its researchers. In the same way that York science is prominent in Britain, British science is distinguished among its international peers. But, unlike the other 60% of York students, un-scientific UK citizens can reap in the benefits. A £6 billion annual investment in research, which is 1.8% of the GDP, fundamentally supports around 30% of the country’s economy. This is clearly fantastic value for money. But the astonishing thing is the current government plans to cut the science budget. Would this obvious solution for a boost to the recovering economy be given the time it deserves if party politicians had more time with science?
“It can’t be argued that scientists would make better politicians…”
Margaret Thatcher is a chemistry graduate from Somerville College, Oxford. She, naturally, was on the research team that helped develop soft-scoop ice cream. Such transferable skills can come from an education that gives an analytical and logical mind to the same extent as from the multitude of barristers and humanitarians the House has. One can highlight a better grasp of issues such as research funding priorities, animal research moralities, and of course global environmental change, something that right-Thatcher was surprisingly very much on the ball with. And with environmental change and its humanitarian consequences being more and more taken up into the political sphere, wouldn’t a better grasp on the situation by scientifically minded decision makers make more sense?
“Science isn’t culture…”
Ideas thrown up by the development of science permeate culture, both at an inspirational and fundamental level. That is to say, George Lucas conquered popular culture in 1977 with his fantastical scientific-inspired ideas, while blowing viewers’ minds with special effects that were themselves a triumph for computer graphics. Quite the stereotype for a science student to reference Star Wars, but Mary Shelley, The Beatles and Van Gogh couldn’t have done without genetics, music technology and oil paints. The whole exhibition of modern culture – the Zahir’s website is a great example – has seen seismic shifts as regards to developments in science and technology. Here, culture is working with science, and this is an example that the rest of the world should be following.