Scientists and other concerned citizens will gather in Washington and hundreds of other cities this weekend to march for science. From astrophysicists, biologists, chemistry teachers and computer science students to lab technicians, surgeons, oceanographers and nurses, these advocates are united not by party or ideology but by a respect for research and the power of evidence-based decision-making.
Over the centuries, we have used science to harness natural resources, relieve suffering, prevent illness, create labor-saving devices, and protect ourselves. Think of the science behind your smartphone, medicine, appliances and car.
I come to this discussion as president of a research university, and as a neurologist and neuroscientist. I was supported in my research by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I’ve seen how science can help the United States become the most economically vibrant, affluent and influential nation on earth.
Because of science, we can feed the world with sturdier and more disease-resistant crops. We can rescue stranded travelers using GPS, prepare for catastrophic storms, and build structures that will hold up in an earthquake.
Over the past century, the average life expectancy in our country has grown by 30 years, from 50 to 80. This has happened largely because of what science has enabled. Today, because of science, we have better sanitation, safer and more nutritious food production, cleaner air and water, and profound advances in health care.
These improvements have often started with basic science – with a scientist pursuing research for the sake of gaining new knowledge that might lead to unimagined destinations. When Alexander Fleming looked at mold growing amid staphylococcus colonies in a petri dish in 1928, he had no idea it would eventually result in the mass production of lifesaving penicillin by American companies during World War II. His discovery ushered in a period of antibiotic discoveries (including streptomycin at Rutgers) that have revolutionized medicine worldwide.
The federal government has developed a strong relationship with science. To prevent the spread of infectious disease in the 1880s, it created an agency that has grown into the NIH. After World War II, the National Science Foundation was formed ”to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; (and) to secure the national defense.” Today, federal grants help America’s scientists pursue advances in areas such as medicine, manufacturing and energy.
We owe it to the generations to come to keep investing in science. Science matters – and it can help us live healthier, safer and more prosperously.
As Congress and the new administration in Washington set priorities for the nation, I urge our leaders to ensure the unfettered sharing of research findings and the strong investment in science that have made America a world leader.
Robert L. Barchi, president of Rutgers University, is a doctor, research scientist and member of the National Academy of Medicine.
Source : http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/story/opinion/2017/04/21/march-science-better-america/100706282/