Should Scientists Be Doing More to Promote Science as a Global Enterprise?
It is said that science is a mosaic of contributions from all over the world. Modern science has, however, been hailed as a product of Western civilization for centuries, with the narrative of its history centered around seventeenth-century European gentlemen, who distinguished themselves from the scholastic schoolmen of yore by seeking to uncover the laws of nature. This narrative has provided a powerful resource to explain the economic and political hegemony of Europe in the centuries to follow. But how accurate is the idea and notion of formulating science as a product of Western attitudes? And if that’s not the case, is it more incumbent than ever for the science community at large to help the world regard science as a global enterprise?
Recent publications from the last few months, including Horizons from James Poskett, Associate Professor in the History of Science and Technology at the University of Warwick, and From Lived Experience to the Written Word from Pamela H. Smith, founding director of the Center for Science and Society, are making it a point to challenge these narrative foundations that guide the West’s conception of scientific achievement. Looking at a wider scale, science has roots in ancient civilizations from all over the world. From the Indian subcontinent to ancient China, scholars have made contributions to various fields of science for thousands of years. In fact, many of the scientific advancements that we attribute to Western civilization today would not have been possible without the contributions of scholars from other parts of the world. Algebra and geometry, for instance, were developed in the Arab world. In addition, the invention of paper and printing technology in China enabled the spread of knowledge across the globe.
Globalization has made it easier than ever for scientists to collaborate across borders and share knowledge. Today, research teams are made up of scientists from all over the world, but geopolitical tensions can get in the way of international collaboration. The UN, and even top Western economic organizations, highlight the need for collaboration in successful scientific research and innovation, which in the past has allowed for the rapid advancement of scientific knowledge and technologies that have the potential to benefit everyone on the planet.
Michael Pravica, Professor of Physics at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, gave his sentiment that the recognition of the global nature of science is essential for the advancement of scientific knowledge and technologies that have the potential to benefit everyone on the planet.
“First of all, science is by definition a natural philosophy. So it is the way that we cope as creatures that evolve from the natural world with how to survive and thrive in the natural world.
All human beings are scientists; we all have to cope with natural laws and physical laws to exist. And in fact, every single human being currently living on this planet is a miracle. The product of generations of other human beings are ancestors who have basically learned science well enough that they survived. They were able to grow food to exist. Science, by definition, like a living organism, is something that grows: it’s always being improved upon. It’s collaborative by nature because that’s how ideas often cross-germinate.
And so basically, science requires the sharing of knowledge. And that knowledge has been ongoing since the dawn of humankind, and not just in the West, but everywhere. And to give you an example of that knowledge, the Native Americans taught the pilgrims and other European Americans how to grow maize, which is essentially corn. And so, without that, they would not have survived here in North America without that ability for food. The Chinese invented gunpowder, and the unfortunate thing about gunpowder is that it was used to kill other humans. So sometimes those are not such good things, but the point is, it’s all science.
And the point, the essence here, is that now more than ever, we live in a world that is faced and set with critical problems such as climate change, pandemics, poisoning of our ecosphere, dwindling of natural resources, and overpopulation. One human being cannot solve the world’s problems. One scientist cannot solve the world’s problems. One nation cannot even solve the world’s problems. The essence is that we need all humanity on board to help solve these problems, to find the solutions, and then implement them.”
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