When referring to science, we tend to think of it within a specific frame of mind: biology, chemistry, physics, and so on. However, to fully understand our world and the root causes of the problems tribulating it, we must realize that there is a science (or lack thereof) to everything in our world.
There is a science to the way in which a parasite hijacks its host, yes, and there is a science to the pollination of a flower; there also is a noteworthy science to the systematic approach Mechai used in his condom campaign, and one to the seemingly miraculous events of childbirth.
For most things in our world, there is an element of science imbued within. The word “science” is derived from the Latin word “scientia,” meaning “knowledge” or “skill.” In the truest sense of the word, science, i.e. knowledge, is the piece of pollen lying within every element of our world, waiting to be unearthed and spread to others. It is the characteristic that is most unique to us among all our biological relatives on Earth’s phylogenetic tree.
Our ever-evolving knowledge of our world was underscored in the TED talks we watched. The speakers taught not only what they learned in their respective scientific pursuits but also that there is so much yet to be known about our universe, so many boundaries redefined and science to be pollinated. In these TED talks, science(/knowledge) was power in that it allowed us to wield a tool to observe and affect ourselves or the world around us to better our own lives.
Years of imperialism and foreign involvement constitute a social science that lie at the root of such terrible statistics as the fact that someone in our world dies of hunger every 10 seconds, as mentioned by the PBS episode. There are underserved people who die regularly from diseases that pose little to no threat elsewhere. This is the darkest and most urgent intersection of society and science and the one we choose to turn a blind eye to the most.
If science is power, and if we have harnessed it as a tool to advance ourselves and our well-being in our environment, the argument goes that this should advance the well-being of our entire species, or the vast majority of it, at least. However, if the knowledge (the tool) already exists and there is still such glaring inequity in our world today, it is not science itself that is the issue; rather, it is us, the people wielding it.
We choose to delve into science in diverse capacities, which is necessary for the diversification of our knowledge and enhancement of our quality of life. We would be handicapped were it not for people researching both prosthetic legs and genome editing, for the different perspectives in the overlap of the two will blaze a new trail for the human experience. The more ground we cover as scientists, the better.
I believe that though we should not be homogenous in our scientific pursuits and that progress in one frontier should not be retarded for progress in another, we should all prioritize certain dysfunctions in our society such as the hunger and vaccination epidemics highlighted in the PBS episode. We have the capacity to solve this problem, but the positive change we want to see in the world must come directly from us, for science is but the tool and we are the vehicle of bettering our world.
This lesson can be applied to several of the most prominent intersections of science and society today: climate change, animal protection, poverty, disease, etc. We are adding tools to our scientific toolbox every day and our strength comes from that very fact, but as the PBS episode stated well, the best medicines are useless if they don’t get to the people who need them, and by extension, the best science/knowledge is useless if we do not take the initiative and responsibility to use it to help those whom it would benefit.