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THE BLACK HOLE

Science in society by the book

By JONATHAN THON | DEC 08 2014

“A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

Consider this your invitation to the show. Academia is a campaign, often mixing elation with depression as you fight uphill to make a difference. While the accumulated successes and failures are often surprisingly short-lived, each is an opportunity to reflect on what motivations drove one up this path and what circumstances led them to this place. My blogger colleague David Kent and I have collectively been writing on the state of science in society for the better part of five years now, and have grown and matured in our perspective and opinions as the field has. We are both accomplished scientists because of (or perhaps in spite of) the system in which we were raised, and in this same spirit of reflection, we have begun the difficult process of revisiting our old writings to understand how social policy, education, financing and communication of science has grown and matured alongside us. What we found was both inspiring and sadly predictable.

“It wouldn’t happen… There hasn’t been one publication by a monkey.”

― Karl Pilkington, The Ricky Gervais Show – First, Second and Third Seasons

There have certainly been major positive changes in the way society has embraced science, but depressingly also very little progress in how scientists’ early career development has been supported. Articles we wrote to help inform social policy have sometimes steered decision makers in the right directions, while other calls for change have fallen entirely on deaf ears. In the end, the larger perspective of where we have made great strides forward and where we have fallen short turned out to yield the greatest value, and it is this perspective we hope to share with you as we begin penning our first book.

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research landscape is shifting. Dramatic change is required to transform an increasingly outdated system of higher education to facilitate competitive new growth in society. This requires a thorough and contextual discussion of research training, education, economics and policy, and an experienced vision for our future. This book will strive to challenge the present academic structure and offer clear approaches to change the way we educate and train new scientists, positioning them to make the paradigm-changing intellectual contributions that will propel a high-tech economy and transition new technologies from invention to utility.

Your comments and posts are welcome in the coming months as we begin the arduous process of compiling our past articles and consolidating them into a clear and practical vision for the education, practice and communication of science in this new generation. The Show will not be without its surprises, but your tickets are in hand and the curtains are parting.

ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is an assistant professor in the hematology division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
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  1. Steve Maltby / December 15, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Very much looking forward to it Jon and Dave. As you say, the ongoing situation has been depressing in its predictability, but we can’t hope for any positive changes unless we raise our voices.
    No system ever changes as a result of complaints, it will always require putting forward solutions to shift to a better system.

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