Scientists accumulate new knowledge to share it with society

  • 2023-07-06
  • Anda Laķe, Head of the Institute of Culture and Arts at the Latvian Academy of Culture, Scientific Vice-Rector, and Professor

In today's ever-changing world, new innovations emerge every day as a result of scientific research. Science is essential for societal development and progress. It provides us with the opportunity to understand the world around us, develop technologies, solve problems, and improve our quality of life. However, we do not always see the specific ways in which science impacts us.

We understand that science has an influence, but we do not know exactly how

That's true. The "footprint" of science in our daily practices and its impact on the lives and quality of life of countries, societies, and various community groups is often not obvious and tangible. The knowledge created by scientists, which is used to create new material and non-material values, "lives" in the products and services we use every day, but we do not reflect on how they have come into our hands. Technological and non-technological innovations that we use daily have emerged as a result of science and research. For example, the digital environment, including social networks, new treatment methods and medicines for diseases, transportation navigation systems. Moreover, science allows us to identify socially important problems, develop new forms of creativity, as well as indicates approaches to better implement innovations, ensure societal sustainability, including the development of green energy and addressing climate change issues. It plays an important role in economic development by providing the basis for new business ideas and technological innovations. This list could go on. Science influences our environment, society, and cultural spheres, but it is not always noticeable. Due to this paradox, the perception of science in the world, including Latvian society, is general. When the role of science is discussed abstractly, people acknowledge its significance. However, as soon as specific, concrete questions are asked, it turns out that it is difficult to imagine specific examples of scientists or their achievements. This means that we are aware that science affects us but unable to say how exactly this impact manifests.

The interaction between society and science is of great importance

In order to have a greater understanding of various scientific processes, it is necessary to promote interaction between those parts of society that are not directly involved in scientific work. Specifically, scientists need to communicate more directly with society - without the mediation of producers who transform scientific knowledge into products. Scientists accumulate new knowledge to share it with society, so such communication is of particular importance. According to the "Survey on Science Consumption and Participation 2022," conducted at the end of 2022, 77% of the respondents had participated in an activity related to science consumption and participation in the past 12 months. For example, watching science-related videos or shows, searching for science-related information on the internet, or acquiring new skills or knowledge. However, this is just the beginning. If we want society to trust the opinions of scientists in critical situations where decisions need to be made (such as the decision to vaccinate/not vaccinate against Covid-19), we need to continue our explanatory work and promote direct communication. In an era when each of us has access to a vast amount of information, we can no longer expect people to automatically trust the information provided by scientists. We need to work on building trust and understanding of scientific processes within society.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that the language of science differs from everyday communication language, and scientists need to learn to translate it into an understandable form to convey their work to the broader society. This requires additional effort and skills from them, but it is necessary for research and achievements to be comprehensible and accessible to the public.

Digital literacy and internet access - cornerstones for acquiring new knowledge

In today's world, the digital environment offers a wide range of information and the opportunity to learn about various scientific discoveries, providing access to diverse information. For example, during the pandemic, when people were at home, they spent more time in the digital realm, both working and learning, as well as seeking entertainment. This increased the public's interest in various scientific issues, such as vaccines and the origin of the virus. Digital technologies have unquestionably become the main source of obtaining necessary information. However, this immediately creates a new challenge - the need for critical thinking and the ability to select information. Moreover, our ability to distinguish true information from false, reliable from unreliable, is also hindered by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, which will undoubtedly continue to be the subject of research and discussion. We need to be aware of how to use it and understand the risks it poses.

Another significant factor is that the digital environment can create a certain inequality. Specifically, those who use information technologies less frequently or have limited internet access may have fewer opportunities to obtain information about scientific discoveries. This affects understanding of various issues, which can, in the long run, impact overall well-being, people's awareness of their rights, and so on. To ensure the benefits of digital technologies, it is necessary to develop broader access and ensure knowledge equity in society.

Explanatory work is also needed to attract new scientists

Public attitudes towards various professions are based on their prestige and stereotypes, and this also influences our choices regarding desired careers or professions. In the case of science and related professions, the choice for a career in this field is also determined by people's knowledge or lack thereof about what a scientist actually does. This means that here, too, the aforementioned interaction between society and science is necessary - through conversations and communication, misconceptions about the profession need to be dispelled, and discussions about the work done and its significance should take place. The involvement of scientists in the public sphere can foster greater support and understanding of the importance of science in our daily lives. On the other hand, greater clarity about the impact of science in our lives and its processes can attract more interest in the scientist profession. Involvement in scientific activities can also be promoted through various public science initiatives, where the public is given the opportunity to participate in data collection and even collaborate with scientists to address societal needs through various forms of public engagement with science. Opening up the closed environment of science to make it inclusive is the key to understanding the value of science in society and appreciating its role.