Last Saturday was the March for Science, and I joined millions of others in marches around the world asking our governments for more funding for science. I attended the March for Science in San Francisco, and the atmosphere could not be better (for photos of the best posters, scroll to the bottom of the post!). It was truly inspiring to join so many people that were united in the belief that science keeps us safe and makes our lives better. The world we know today would have not been possible without the scientific breakthroughs of past centuries.
“Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.” – Richard Feynman
The cornerstone of science is the fact that it is falsifiable, which means that any scientific theory can be proven wrong by new discoveries. Scientific theories of the natural world evolve through the ages because we learn of new facts that prove the old theories wrong and the scientific community needs to seek new answers. Examples of that are Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, quantum mechanics or general relativity. It could be easy to jump to the conclusion that there are no scientific facts or absoluts, and it’s all a matter of interpretation. This is not true, a scientific fact is measurable and verifiable observation, such as the Earth being round, the speed of light constant or the existence of subatomic particles. On the other hand, a scientific theory is an interpretation of the verifiable facts, which means that if we lack a relevant fact, we might arrive at the wrong conclusion.
Scientists use the scientific method to arrive to their scientific theories. They observe a fact of nature, they formulate a hypothesis as to why it happens, they determine the logical implications and make predictions following their hypothesis, and finally they test their predictions. This process can be preformed several times, but once all their predictions are proven correct, the theory is held as true, until a contradicting fact comes along. Any contradicting provable fact is enough to falsify a theory, and therefore scientists have to be careful and thorough in their analysis. It’s one of the things I love most about science: opinions or beliefs do not matter, only evidence. We are only explorers of the world around us, seeking understanding.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman
Understanding the principles of the natural world equips us to improve our quality of life and push our technological development, however the importance of scientific progress has not always been understood. It was not until the twentieth century that science became more broadly publicly funded. In the past, scientists fell mainly into three categories:
- Scientists that had the means to support themselves, or families who would foot the bill. Examples are Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Tycho Brahe.
- Scientists who sought patronage from the aristocracy, like Rene Descartes, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei
- Scientists who worked a second job to support their scientific endeavours, such as Gregor Mendel, Benjamin Franklin and Michael Faraday.
Nowadays, governments spend a sizeable portion of their GDP into Research & Development (R&D) programs. In fact, there is a correlation between the amount of funding that a country invests in R&D and their Human Develpment Index (HDI). The tables below show the 20 highest-ranking countries according to their HDI (on the left) and the 20 highest-ranking countries according to how much expenditure there is per capita. I’ve marked with a star those that appear in both lists, which is 75%. The other 5 countries that spend highly in R&D but do not appear in the top 20 according to their HDI, are ranked in the top 30.
This is the reason I attended the March for Science, because scientific progress has an unparalleled influence in our development as a society. Our ability to cure diseases, build infrastructures, mass-produce food or design electronic devices comes from basic research that seeked a deeper understanding of nature. It is in our best interest to keep funding basic research.
Here is a selection of the best posters I saw at the March for Science in San Francisco, there are more excellent posters from other marches around the world in various social media platforms.