A “Modern Scientist” Manifesto
Science is going through a rapid phase of transformation. Two important trends are emerging:
Research is becoming more complex, requiring larger collaborations and bigger experiments.
Science and technology increasingly affect modern society.
The first trend is easy to understand. Let’s think of the cumulative knowledge of humankind as a sphere. Scientists work at the surface and try to “push the boundary”. Discovery increases the volume of knowledge. As the sphere’s volume grows, so does its surface area. Therefore an ever increasing number of researchers is required to tessellate the expanding cutting-edge of science. Moreover, contrary to a few hundred years ago when the sphere of knowledge was so small that a single polymath could master large chunks of it, nowadays no human can understand the details of more than a few research topics. To capture the bigger picture and understand very complex research questions, collaborative efforts combining together a number of highly specific expertises are required.
In the 21st century the number of scientists is rapidly increasing and science and society are becoming more and more intertwined. In this rapidly changing landscape it is important to reflect upon the role, the best practices and the responsibilities of the individuals doing science. I argue that this should be one of the primary concerns for the scientific community and society at large. This is because, as mentioned before, the future (and probably survival) of humankind relies heavily on the recommendations of the scientific community and its scientific and technological discoveries. Unfortunately most scientists were not trained to face this emerging scenario, which in particular requires them to successfully engage in a dialog with the public, the media and the political class. Fortunately scientists have been trained to learn quickly new skills and adapt rapidly to changing paradigms and new challenges. It’s time to identify what these skills and challenges are. That’s the rationale behind this manifesto.