Science Week - The Bad
This is part two of a three-part series. If you haven’t read the first, go on 😊
As mentioned, every story has three sides and as much as science is this amazing field with endless possibilities. I don’t want this post to be entirely depressing so it focuses on three main areas
1. Lack of public trust in scientists
2. Pursuing an academic career
3. Science accessibility
Lack of public trust in scientists
Its history hasn’t been so kind to ethnic minorities and disadvantaged countries. I haven’t done extensive research into every evil doing by a scientist, but you can’t enjoy certain discoveries without thinking about the communities that have suffered. A few topics include eugenics, scientific war fare, viral disease conspiracies, lack of diversity, exploitation, stolen ideas, gatekeeping and the list goes on.
When the malaria vaccine was first announced, a mini debate sparked on my twitter feed. The sentiments of lack of trust and with the already worrying climate of decline in peoples trust in vaccinations. The problems that came about were the vaccines coming from the “west” and why should it be trusted, alongside the Ebola vaccine- during the roll out where foreign nationals were treated but nationals weren’t so lucky being treated as rapidly. This could be the fault of a bag of things, weak healthcare system, lack of infrastructure and more.
More recently the coronavirus outbreak has personally left me thinking if disease spread is only treated with utmost global urgency when western countries are affected. Being someone that personally watched the development of the Ebola outbreak, the haste at which the corona virus is being declared an emergency in comparison to Ebola is questionable. You could say this is an argument of healthcare systems but shouldn’t human life across the globe be treated with urgency, but then again we live in a very selfish society and science/ healthcare is no exception in a lot of cases.
Furthermore recent headlines surrounding the lack of covid-19 cases in africa is interesting. I understand that healthcare professionals will want to understand why - in a way to control the spread but with major publications hinting that nations with already struggling systems may just be incapable of controlling and recording numbers and lack of numbers may just be due to poor recording / incompetence is annoying. The tone of most of the articles i have read suggests that its impossible for Africa to actually have this under contrlol !
This leaves me somewhere in the middle when it comes to trusting ALL major science publications. As someone that studies within the healthcare field it can be hard to navigate when even with all the knowledge i may have now, i still have my own concerns.
Pursuing a career in academia
Pursuing academia or higher education is a very personal choice but the barriers to entry can be so off putting and the experience itself can push people out for many reasons that are totally understandable.
Lack of diversity: since the beginning of time, a scientist was a white male in a lab coat, followed by a lovely head shot plastered all over a website. Would I say much has changed on a leadership level from the top research industries?
Pursuing a career in academia is one led by extreme privilege. You need money to survive as the pursuit may leave your pockets dry with little reward. Let’s also not talk about the burn out and bullying that many suffer on their journey to the top.
The lack of diversity is an extreme hinderance to amazing potential and coupled with the lack of mentorship is just a recipe for disaster. A passionate student can be put off doing a Phd and even questioned in their potential which leads to a deep feeling of imposter syndrome. It is easy to say go online and look for inspiration and connect- as someone that posts amazing people doing great in various fields but the reality if there are no direct physical spaces and people with a genuine interest in your progression, there is only so far personal motivation can take you.
I mention in my “science:good” post that science is a highly collaborative field. But what happens when major collaborations and investments only benefut one part of the world and a certain demographic?
Most of the breakthrough science can only be done on one side of the world where government have the capability to heavily invest in science and research. I think what makes me sad is that although science is global, its aims will always focus on the dominating demographic within the industry. This means all the diseases and knowledge we know now, there is huge untapped potential in African countries- although this is changing and I do see hope for the future will it be more of a catch up game opposed to novel ideas and will there ever be a level playing field?
To end this quite miserable post, the most heart-breaking thing for me is the lack of science engagement in many countries outside the west. With science communication and outreach expanding, countries across the globe are being left out, increasing the education and opportunity gap further!
How I grew up in Sierra Leone, if you pursued science, it was limited to medicine and engineering. I am sure there are initiatives trying to change this but how can it really change when real life doesn’t reflect this. In order to aspire and develop healthcare systems or any industry you need real life people motivating the next gneration.
In developing countries you need ALL the sciences developing and working together with a people centred approach.
Make sure to subscribe to see the final post where I talk about the Realities of pursuing a career in science.