Work to be done!


I discovered something new at our faculty this week. Normally, the garbage cans outside are plain grey with nothing more than a small TU Delft logo here and there. But now, they have been ‘decorated’ with stickers. Ugly, badly designed stickers that claim to tell ‘THE TRUTH ABOUT 9/11.’ Signed by the ‘Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth.’

Yes. Well, in itself there is nothing wrong with being critical now and then of journalism or of investigations with an impact on society, such as 9/11 or MH17. But I thought - and call me naïve if you like - that we had passed that point by now.

Thorough research is constantly being challenged and criticized by the loudest voices. In addition, these often unsubstantiated doubts manage to spread because people are presented with false information (think of Facebook, all kinds of forums, et cetera). That I am saying this is quite ironic, since this is the very accusation that is thrown our way: scientists are said to spread false information through the interference of industrial (Big Pharma) and other stakeholders.

This is something we face in my field of research as well. For instance, the image of a technology plays an important role in its social acceptance. As a result of the protests in the seventies and eighties (be they right or wrong) against green biotechnology (such as plants, crops and food), all the other different 'colors' of biotechnology still face some resistance today. This resistance doesn’t exactly pose a threat to society itself, but doubts about technology and science can indeed lead to such a threat eventually.

Take the anti-vax movement for example, which seems to gain more and more traction. This movement uses various media platforms - often online - to call upon people not to vaccinate their newborn child under the pretext of ‘autonomy.’ Of course, we are all free to make the choices that have an impact on our lives, that’s why we don’t have compulsory vaccinations. But what these people seem to forget (or ignore), is that there is a large group of people who can’t get vaccinated for different reasons, and who are at a higher risk of contracting a disease because others intentionally refuse to vaccinate. Does your autonomy justify the higher risk you impose on others? And is your autonomy ‘worth’ more than that of someone else?

As people of science we still have a lot of work to do. How do we gain back trust? Especially of those people who feel doubt. It might be too late to win back the group that has definitively turned its back on us. All we need to do now is find some space in our agendas to work on this…

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