Opinion: Science, Politics, and the Ivory Tower

Education: Are Students Doing Research for the Right Reasons?

Education Debate Photo

Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how close we are to research. It goes on all around us, from the carrels of Widener to the bowels of the Northwest Labs. We conduct it; we discuss it; we consume it by the syllabus. When research is such a big part of our daily lives, it can be easy to forget that far more people view it either as an ivory tower quirk or as a vast and vaguely sinister industrial complex.

Combatting attitudes like these begins with education. And not just higher education—an interest in research should be part of learning, not the cherry on top of years of study. Unfortunately, organized attempts to fix this don’t always encourage research for its own sake. Here’s the challenge: how can we introduce students to research in a way that’s not misleading, boring, or contrived? Five Brevia writers look at the place of research in education, from primary school to the college years.

Democracy: How Much Should the Public Control the Science of the Union?

Democracy Debate Photo A good deal of science research is funded by the government, meaning that U.S. taxpayers have a heavy stake in what gets funded for research. But what does that really mean for researchers and the public, who often seem to lack so much as a common language? How much and how direct a say should the public have in what researchers do? And once research is published, what should both parties make of the irony that the most publicized research is often the most misunderstood? Four Brevia writers examine how public priorities collide with publicity, funding, and civic duty.

Technology: Do TED Talks Dumb Us All Down?

Technology Debate Photo

Some of the most successful forms of research publicity have come from outside the academic establishment. Popular science, which encompasses a slew of books, magazines, movies, and TV programs that simplify hard science for a layman audience, has allowed thinkers from inside and outside academia to spread the joys of science to the public. More recently, researchers and other experts have turned to TED Talks—conference-style talks that compress a speaker’s biggest insights into eighteen inspirational minutes or less—to transmit their passions on a viral scale. Despite the wide reach of these platforms, some of their flashier incarnations have been a source of suspicion for researchers. Are Big Ideas degraded when condensed into a pithy video, a Discovery special, or a tweet? How can the research community adapt to rapidly changing standards of publicity? Four Brevia writers talk tech, TED, and popular science.