The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how much discord there is in the public about science. Disagreements about masks, social distancing and vaccines have led to massive protests and even violence. Yet a recent global survey by 3M found that people’s confidence in science has actually improved compared to before the pandemic(3M: State of Science Index Survey).Although the reasons are not entirely clear, one possible explanation for this change is that science has contributed to pandemic preparedness. Perhaps because the disease is not other people’s problem but their own, people have remained updated on the development of treatments and vaccines. Or, perhaps it is because people are aware of the devotion of health care workers operating under the threat of infection. Many of us have never experienced a situation where science has so obviously affected our lives. This is a rare time when people can see science’s impact, making clear its value. This is a rare time when people can see science’s intent and impact, making it easy to trust.
However, the pandemic is an unusual event, and people may not see science the same way in normal times. Even in scientific fields for which people can feel the impact regularly, like medicine and health care, there is some distance from the research conducted at universities and research institutes and people’s lives. In this case, it is difficult for people to develop the same level of trust. Medical research, in particular, depends heavily on patients and volunteers, and without the trust of society, no research can happen. To gain this trust, transparency is important. That is why science must build a dialogue with society.
The Japanese version of the current CiRA newsletter has a special feature on brain organoids and bioethics, highlighting research done by CiRA Professor Jun Takahashi, but it also addresses the dialogue between scientists and society. The word “dialogue” comes from the classical Greek words διά (through, among, or between) and λέγειν (to speak). Rather than lecturing the other person, the underlying meaning of a dialogue is to exchange ideas and understanding. These dialogues must take place not only among specialists but also among different groups in society. This is the path science should take to build trust.