Insights into science and the politics of research.

I’m not sure how widely read Valentí Rull’s blog Ecological Paleoecology is, he’s been writing it since 2009 when he started off with a brief discussion of the motivations and utility of biodiversity conservation approaches and has continued with discussions about his field work, the politics of science and, most recently, research funding.  The political posts have much more import given Spain’s troubling economic picture, and the choices the government has made with regards to funding cuts.

Lest this post devolve into fan-dom, I wanted to point out one post in particular, A manifesto for a timeless, universal and independent scientific force, that is largely the text from a paper in press in the open access journal Collectanea Botanica.

Nice band from Ottawa, Ontario.
Fig 1. The Souljazz Orchestra’s Manifesto album is not exactly the manifesto we’re talking about.

Rull first defines the requirements of a Scientific Manifesto here:

1) It should be independent, that is, free from any non-scientific influence (external forces);
2) it should be timeless, independent from any transient historical circumstance;
3) it should be universal, that is, acceptable by any scientist of the planet, independently of their particular condition;
4) it should consider science as one more force, with the same status and decision power that any other political or economic force.

I find this interesting, maybe too philosophical for me – being a student in North America I always feel like I missed out on some of the philosophical background that students in France (and Spain?) get – but point three in particular sticks out, especially when we get into the points of the manifesto itself. Point four is also interesting. Science should not be considered a tool of politics or economics, but rather a tool in and of itself that can lend credence to the other forces.

So what are the manifesto points?  Here are some highlights, but I strongly suggest you take a peek at the post itself:

1. Science is the intellectual act by which humans generate and organize knowledge per se. Knowledge generation makes sense by itself, and does not need a justification or an external context for its development.

There it is. That’s all you need to see. Imagine if we could justify our research in that way! Of course, if we look at the history of major inventions they often start out as pure knowledge generation that eventually turns out to be useful or revolutionary for other purposes. Unfortunately knowledge generation is often the first thing to go as research budgets get cut.

10. Science provides the knowledge for biological, medical and technological discoveries and improvements, oriented to human health and wellbeing but these are not the only societal objectives of scientific research. Knowledge generation and appropriate transfer should also contribute to increase individual and collective freedom and free will. A society of formed and informed citizens is less prone to manipulation.

As a Canadian scientist living in the United States during an election year, that last sentence really hits home.

Some recent papers of interest:

Rull V. 2012. Neotropical biodiversity: timing and potential drivers. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 26: 508–513.

Rull V. 2012. Past natural history and ecological biodiversity modellingSystematics and Biodiversity. 10:261-265.

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Assistant scientist in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Studying paleoecology and the challenges of large data synthesis.

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