Although it appears to be trying its damnedest, 2021 has not yet sapped me of my hope that humanity can turn a corner and put the horrors of 2020 in our rearview mirror. As I’ve written in previous dispatches, what anchors me to this hope is science.
Since the calendar turned, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened; new, more-infectious SARS-CoV-2 variants are cropping up around the globe; vaccine rollout has been slower than anticipated; and political division has reached a fever pitch here in the US. But the steady pace of scientific discovery and development churns on. And even with so many aspects of our lives and work bearing the scars of 2020’s tumult (some wounds are indeed still fresh), we at The Scientist, as well as those in the research community we serve and like-minded members of the general public, continue to look to science, reason, and fact as the keys that will deliver us into a more peaceful existence.
One must keep in mind that I write these editorials weeks before you have the opportunity to read them. For example, I sit to write this piece in the middle of January, but you’re reading this on or after it is published on February 1. In normal times, this makes it difficult to encapsulate and comment on the zeitgeist of the current moment. These days, with things happening at such a frenetic pace, this task becomes nigh on impossible.
By contrast, there’s something downright comforting about following an enterprise that proceeds at a stable rate and that tends to build slowly, one insight adding to preceding ones to form an ever-clearer picture of reality. That’s not to say science can’t or doesn’t surprise us. To be sure, there have been many great leaps in humanity’s understanding of the world facilitated by the research enterprise. And scientists have certainly made ground-shaking discoveries throughout history. But by and large, scientific progress is made by the millimeter, not the kilometer.
Science provides the stability that the world so desperately needs right now. Revealing the truths underlying biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, and other aspects of our universe must remain unimpeded by the turbulence that may surround us. And those truths can serve as antidotes to the misinformation that has become a regrettable constant in our modern consciousness.
Science provides the stability that the world so desperately needs right now.
While I cannot predict what might happen in the time between when I pen this editorial and when you read it, I can forecast that the quest for truth, which rests at the foundation of the human experience, will continue to propel our species forward. As long as a sufficient number of us stand up, repeatedly and consistently, to voice the importance of science and fact, we can hope that the infrastructure designed to support research efforts will continue to do so. And although I can’t be sure that the divisiveness that marks so much of our social and political discourse these days will ever be reckoned with and healed, I can’t think of a better starting point to move forward into an increasingly uncertain future than a shared respect for and trust in science.