Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

The RSC – Are We Satisfied Or Should We Add To Its Activities?

Since my last post, I received a telephone questionnaire relating to what the RSC should be doing, which raises the question, what should it be doing? First, some things are obvious, particularly relating to practicing chemists, and in my opinion, the RSC does these rather well. There are obviously some additional things it could be doing, and any organization has room for improvement, but I suspect the average response to such a questionnaire will be to make minor adjustments to what is already there. Leaving aside the need to work for chemists, I think there are three major areas for the society to consider.
The first is to get a basic understanding of chemistry to the general public. In the recent RSC poll, 55% of the public believed it is important to know about chemistry, but I bet most who answered that way would admit they know very little. By basic understanding, I mean enough to understand the problems the world faces, enough to see them safely through their lives, and enough to sense whether someone making a public statement is speaking sensibly. In New Zealand recently, one family died by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and had they understood the problem, this would not have happened. I know you can never totally prevent such incidents, nor can you cover every eventuality, but I think the society could be more active in trying, perhaps by giving some basic information in an easily comprehended form on its website, or perhaps by making Youtube video educational items.
The second is to make a broader explanation of certain important environmental issues available to the general public. I have seen a lot of irrational and false comments about matters like climate change, and I feel the Society should make a bigger effort to show the public how to handle the chemical aspects, or perhaps with the Institute of Physics, a proper overall picture, including a discussion of what we do not know for sure. The problem, as I see it, is that science tends to present very technical statements with proper scientific statements of uncertainty, but the public cannot understand them, and instead fall to "snake oil" merchants. I am not saying there cannot be dissent, but the public must realize that dissent requires logical analysis and evidence. I think the public is smarter than we give them credit for, BUT they lack specific information.
The third is I think the Society should show how chemistry can assist the economy, and not just by helping big companies. In the RSC survey, many people believed that chemistry can help the economy, and the fact is that now the more wealthy countries have a strong knowledge input into their economies. It can also show up problems smaller companies have and make basic chemical information available. Not all companies are associated with a University, and it is important that graduates, when they go into the world, have the opportunity to stay on top of their profession.
There will be other things the Society could do, and many may be more significant, but they are my thoughts as to what could be done. What are yours? One of the better things the RSC does is to put up blogs like this, and while this offers the chance to involve all the members in idea creation, that only works if the members participate, so why not throw in your thoughts?
Posted by Ian Miller on Jul 27, 2015 3:35 AM Europe/London

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