In our last blog, we discussed one of the key issues in the valorization debate: money. Today we would like to discuss another important issue, legitimacy.
In the past, we used to have ‘elevator operators’ for getting you safely to your floor and ‘lamp lighters’ to ignite street lightning. These jobs went extinct because we found better ways to fulfill them. When society called upon these jobs to prove that they were still adding value to society, that they were still needed despite the technological development, they failed. But scientist shouldn’t have to worry, because science is on the forefront of development, right?
Well, actually, there is cause for worry. A few months ago the Education minister of Japan decreed that Humanities and Social Sciences faculties of universities in Japan should “convert to areas that better meet society’s needs”. Apparently, it is not clear to the Japanese government what the value is of the Humanities and Social Sciences and why they should spend tax money on research topics in these areas. It led to the following question of a former Rathenau researcher: “who will be left to evaluate the effects of this policy measure?” Funny, but bloody serious at the same time.
Although we won’t see these extreme policy measures in the Netherlands anytime soon, we do recognize the discussion. We regularly hear researchers sigh that at a birthday party, they never tell exactly what they study because they fear they won’t be able to explain why tax money is spent on it.
But there’s cause for optimism. Science in Transitions’ plea for a bigger influence of civilians on the research agenda led to a huge discussion with the goal to focus a bit more on societal value instead of more publications in high impact journals. The ‘National Science Agenda’ (Wetenschapsagenda) actually asked us, the people, for our questions which gave us a little bit of influence on the research topics in the coming decades. We didn’t set the agenda, but we had a say in it.
And this is a good thing. Professor Trudy Dehue already mentioned it in a column last year that science seems to be the only sector that is allowed to spend huge amounts of money so freely. So the least the public could ask from science is for it to show why it is worth investing so much in science. Stating that universities are educating the workforce of tomorrow is not enough for the simple reason that there is so much more value in science. Because we believe investing in science is worth the money. It is the driving force behind technological development, behind understanding our society but also the societies of others. It helps us to interpret history, art and cultural differences, but also tries to understand the world, the universe and beyond. Science should satisfy the curiosity of us, humans, not only the curiosity of one researcher.
So, researchers of the world, unite! Spread the word of your interesting insights, teach us the things you know and do. Deepen art exhibitions, immerse us in the wonderful world of poets, the provocative prose of philosophers and the romantic memory of historians. Contribute to new medication, green energy, and robotics and help us to ameliorate our society in every aspect. In other words, be proud of what you are doing and spread the word! To still not only your, but our common desire for knowledge! And then I am sure, no one will ever doubt the justification of spending tax money on science as they did in Japan.