What does the future of science look like after covid-19? The Coronavirus crisis is devastating communities and economies around the world. Alarmingly, this pandemic is a symptom of a much larger systemic crisis. One in which the relationship between human activities and the natural environment is rapidly destabilizing. Of course, science represents the best product of human cultural evolution. And still, it is the kind of knowledge we can rely on to cope with this unprecedented worldwide healthcare emergency. So, let us move on and show you how the world of science will look like in the future.
In the series “The World After Covid” Marcia McNutt – the President of the National Academy of Sciences, shares what she thinks the future of science might look like in a post-Covid world?
I believe (Ms. McNutt) it will be forever changed in many ways for the better. Scientists will need to return to close collaborations with other scientists in the lab. We have learned the hard way from reproducibility that sometimes the only way to truly understand how one group has do not an experiment is to observe it firsthand. However, I think that we will find other ways to do that. I think the future of science could be a lot more inclusive than it was before the Coronavirus.
In the following way, scientists tended to be a rather “clubby” group. There were people who knew each other because they had been students together. However, there are others, half a country away in another lab that they get to know well. I think because we collaborated with others we might find that there are good ways to build trust. Also to discover talents.
– When you say that science will not only remain the same, but it will change in better ways. Might there also be things that are lost? For example, might fear set in for certain types of work or certain types of collaboration?
- There will be negatives that come out of this. Let me give one specific example – one of my colleagues has been undertaking a very long-term research project. It has involved maintaining, living organisms over multiple generations for 30 years now. Of course, he has to shut down his lab as did everyone else. What is going to be the incentives for those who come after him, to even want to undertake long-term time series if they fear that they could be shut down for reasons that have nothing to do with the science or their own ability to gain funding or anything to do with their own initiative. So, I do think there are certain types of science that could be discouraged, because of the concern of lab shutdowns.
– We have talked about the process of science. What would be your thoughts on the content, what do you think might be the impact of what we work on? (future of science covid-19)
- The sorts of science that I have seen brought to bear on this particular pandemic, run the gamut. Everything from the fundamental nature of how viruses mutate within various hosts all the way to very practical things about their persistence in different temperature regimes and on different surfaces. So, I am not sure that there will be much argument to be made as a result of this pandemic that more basic science or more applied science is more valuable.
- We have seen it all come to fruition in terms of its ability to deal with this disaster. What I think has been interesting is the ingenuity across the board of scientists who have come from rather far afield and found that their talents nevertheless are useful. I was just reading on the internet today about how some engineers who had been working to build fuel cells redirected their efforts overnight to fix respirators for hospitals. I mean, that is an immediate about-face that is going to make a huge difference in the numbers of lives saved. And that is the kind of turning on a dime response that shows the value of broadly educating everyone in the science and engineering workforce.
How would you “rate” science at this moment? When something has come up that is new, it is called “novel”, how is science responded to it in your view? (future of science covid-19)
- If I had to grade the scientist's response to this pandemic, I do not think I could say it better than a paraphrase of what I saw on Twitter recently. It is, though scientists have been enlisted into an Olympic competition that they did not ask for and they are “medaling” in every event.
Here we had an interview with Marcia McNutt, revealing a lot about how science will change. She is very optimistic about it though. I also believe that soon enough scientists will go back to close hand-to-hand collaboration in their labs. She stated that the only problem is that a lot of scientists are not working on their main projects. They are serving another purpose and on top of that their labs are being shut down because of the pandemic. This on the other hand leads to unproductivity which leads to less funding. There is a lot ahead of us, we have a long way to go before we rid of the virus completely. However we are already halfway there, so stay safe and be optimistic!