Challenges of trust and communication in science policy


Trust is the cornerstone to a healthy relationship,  to be earned and appreciated, not demanded without evidence. However, trust, expectation, and authority is ever-shifting in society, and for Science too. So, how can trust in science communication be saved? And does it need saving anyway?


Prof Nicholas Dirks of the New York Academy of Sciences talks to us today about science and scientists in modern society, and the Academy’s International Science Reserve, aiming to get ahead of future crises.




Image Source: Adobe Image Stock / Vadim





The following transcript is automatically generated.


00:00:04 Will Mountford 

Hello I’m Will, welcome to ResearchPod. Trust is the cornerstone to a healthy relationship, whether with family, friends or voices in the media that would like your attention. Ideally it is earned and appreciated, not demanded without evidence. 


00:00:20 Will Mountford 

But this is not an ideal world. 


00:00:23 Will Mountford 

The give and take of trust, expectation and authority is ever shifting in society at large and for the monolith of Capital S science too. 


00:00:33 Will Mountford 

So how can trust in science communication be saved, and does it need saving anyway? 


00:00:40 Will Mountford 

Today we hear from Nicholas Dirks of the New York Academy of Sciences. In our far reaching interview, we talk about science and scientists in modern society being an expert in the public eye and how the Academy aims to get ahead of whatever crisis may come next for the institutions of research and the whole of humanity. 

00:01:03 Will Mountford 

And joining me from New York Professor Nicholas Dirks.  

00:01:05 Prof Nicholas Dirks 


00:01:07 Will Mountford 

Hello. Thank you very much for your time and joining with us today. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your professional academic background and some of what brings us here today? 

00:01:16 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So I have been for almost all of my life and academic. I am a historian by training, but an anthropologist by inclination, I guess. 

00:01:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I’ve taught at a number of great institutions in the United States, including Caltech, the University of Michigan, Columbia, and Berkeley, and I spent much of my life studying historical and anthropological questions in South Asia and South India, in particular. Somewhere along the way in. 

00:01:47 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The midst of teaching and writing books and spending time in India to do additional research and also coming to London. 

00:01:56 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I took on. 

00:01:58 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Administrative jobs of 1 sort or another in. 

00:02:00 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The university I. 

00:02:01 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Became the chair of the Anthropology Department at Columbia’s storied department in the US, which was the first department. 

00:02:09 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of anthropology in the US I then after doing that job for about 7 years became the. 

00:02:16 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences at Columbia, and for close to a decade worked really as a Dean to to work on hiring faculty, growing different departments, trying to improve the nature of the academic experience, both for students and faculty at. 

00:02:35 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Columbia and just at about the point, I thought of stepping back into the teaching and research world that I’d really left behind because being a Dean is a very intense life. I was invited to move to Berkeley to be the 10th Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley. So I went there. 

00:02:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Did that role for close to five years in the course of both being a Dean and being a Chancellor, I saw a great deal of the university for more than I had seen in my own disciplinary silos and furrows. 

00:03:08 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I interacted a great deal with not just other humanists and social scientists, but also with scientists and at Berkeley with engineers at Berkeley, for example, I work very closely with with a group of faculty and neuroscience, and then went on from that to work very closely on a major initiative in data science, which has led to a new division at Berkeley. 

00:03:30 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And the fastest rising new new set of courses for undergraduates, given the great interest, of course, in both the data analytics and artificial intelligence, that’s not. 

00:03:40 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Rising, but in the course of all of that came to increasingly feel that the kind of interdisciplinary work that I had done in my own disciplinary areas needed to be expanded to the entire university. And so I became interested in the relationship between the science, the science fields and and and the arts, which is to say, the humanities and humanistic. 

00:04:01 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Social Sciences, sciences, and. 

00:04:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Particular and when I was invited, then to be the next President of the New York Academy of Sciences, I kind of left at the opportunity because it it was an opportunity and indeed to think about how to make science more relevant, more social, more embedded in the social, cultural, economic and political world, that it plays such an important role. 

00:04:24 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And also of course allowed me to interact with some of the great scientists in the US and around the world. 

00:04:30 Will Mountford 

Could you tell us some of the, you know, the horizons that you are working on that you’re looking towards and some of the projects that people might either recognize or want to know more about? 

00:04:40 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Absolutely. A small historical detour to commence, which is to say that the New York Academy was founded in 1817. So it’s one of the US’s oldest scientific academies and associations, but it has gone through many different kinds of manifestations and and phases over the course of its of its 200 and. 

00:05:00 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And now, 6 year old history. 

00:05:02 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

It was a kind of convening space, and much of the 19th and early 20th centuries for discussions about scientific discoveries. It’s where some of the first major deliberations about Darwin’s work on evolution was discussed in the in the United States and more recently in the 20th century. It was a place that. 

00:05:22 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Often had the first discussions about new. 

00:05:25 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

New drugs, especially new antibiotics, after the invention of penicillin, it’s also been a place which has had very important convenings about major diseases that threatened to be either pandemics or major scourges for large sections of our population. There was a major conference in the first major conference on HIV. 

00:05:45 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

In the 1980s, and subsequently major gatherings around SARS and most recently around COVID and the pandemic from which we 

00:05:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Seem to be. 

00:05:56 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Finally, if not emerging, at least taking to A to a non pandemic level at this particular moment, so it has been a major convenience space across its entire history and it continues to be that if in a somewhat different way than it was perhaps before. But the New York Academy also it has a publication series. 

00:06:15 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

It has, in fact, the oldest scientific journal in the US, now called the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. We do a great deal of work in the educational space, which is to say we we. 

00:06:25 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

With young people principally and middle and upper schools to provide after school or extracurricular kinds of opportunities to engage, for example, in what we call innovation challenges, which are ways to get them, get young people excited about a scientific project. But a project in the real world and a project that. 

00:06:46 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Allows them to to see the connections between science and puzzles that they might have, which include how to deal with questions around recycling or how to deal with questions around. In the case of the. 

00:06:57 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Pandemic, understanding the nature of a virus that was novel and for the most part in early days, completely misunderstood. We use these innovation challenges to not only teach students about science, but also about what the process of doing research is, how they work together, and we always assign them mentors. And we have a large network of scientists. 

00:07:18 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

From, you know, advanced graduate students to retired scientists. In fact, who volunteer their time to be mentors for young people. And they often find that to be an incredibly gratifying experience because they see young people get excited. 

00:07:32 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And that often will lead them to to go on to to do work in STEM fields that otherwise they might have abandoned just given the fact that they might have gotten one bad grade or had one bad experience and decided to do something a little bit less challenging in addition to our work in education and in scientific convenings and in publications, we also administer a whole variety of awards. 

00:07:54 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Including the Blavatnik Awards for early career scientists, these are awards. 

00:07:57 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For younger scientists who we hope will go on to get no bells but but we give them a lot of resources and a lot of recognition and hopes that at that early stage in their career it will really propel new and bold research and advanced science in a way that some of the more senior awards don’t do in such a direct way since they’re often given to scientists. 

00:08:18 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

After they’ve made their big discoveries and done their major work in in 2019-2020, when I came to the Academy. 

00:08:27 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For us to talk to them and then to take up the position, these were the principal things that the Academy did. Of course, I joined two months after the pandemic began. Many of our Convenings had to all of our convenings had to go online. We could no longer bring people together, as indeed no one was able to do at the time. 

00:08:48 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But I also became interested in thinking about ways to expand the mission of the New York Academy. And just one example, the 1st. 

00:08:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of the new programs we’ve undertaken is building something that came directly out of the experience of the pandemic, namely, how perhaps might we be better prepared? 

00:09:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For the next, if not pandemic, certainly the next major world crisis, and how indeed, given the provenance and mission of the New York Academy of Sciences, might we think about this in relationship to to questions around scientists themselves and scientific resources that would be inevitably so important in dealing with any kind of major crisis. 

00:09:27 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Whether it was climate related when? 

00:09:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Or it was another kind of pandemic, or or, God forbid, some other set of potentially existential threats that we know lurk lurk around us. And so we built something called the International Science Reserve and used our existing networks as also as also to build. And we use this as an opportunity also to. 

00:09:47 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Build new networks. 

00:09:48 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

To try to connect people to think about who might be readily available and how might we get them better prepared to, to both, you know, raise their hands, but also connect with. 

00:10:00 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Other in the event of something like the this pandemic happening again soon. So so we built that and and and we’ve done another number of other new things as well, which perhaps I’ll wait to talk about when we talk about some of the thematic questions that are confronting scientists and and and scientific policymakers. 

00:10:20 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

In a short while. 

00:10:22 Will Mountford 

By way of metaphor, it seems to my mind, like doctors Without Borders, but for science, I hope that’s not too much of an overreach or a different way of describing it. 

00:10:30 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Well, you know, it’s interesting that the New York Academy of Sciences actually has. 

00:10:34 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Is a patent on the phrase scientists Without Borders, so we use that to in fact describe what this reserve is intended to do, and by scientists Without Borders, we mean not just national borders, but we also mean disciplinary borders and indeed even institutional borders, because they’re scientists, of course. 

00:10:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Not just in universities or in companies that are known for their work in in developing and producing scientific products, but in all kinds. 

00:11:04 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of settings and governments, as well as industry and indeed in in many different sectors, and we’re trying to bring as many of them together as possible, indeed across all the borders that exist. So, so your phrase is one that that we we use all the time. And as I say, we. 

00:11:21 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Even have the trademark for it. 

00:11:27 Will Mountford 

We’ll come on to some other kind of the contemporary issues in science and communication and public policy in a second, but just to spend one more moment in reflection, to look back on all of your experiences, travels, publications and positions held. Do you think that there has been any one thread that has either guided you through, that has led you from one position to the next? 

00:11:47 Will Mountford 

Application to the next post? Or is there something that you maybe look back on and realize that from the beginning this has always been behind what you’ve been up to? 

00:11:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

There’s one thing that has certainly been a constant in. 

00:11:59 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Everything I’ve done and that is that I never fit firmly within one particular disciplinary lane. 

00:12:07 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I did my original studies in history, but I did my work in history on on South Asia and as a consequence of that did my my research and my my training both in college and in in graduate. 

00:12:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

In a program that basically was an area studies program, as we call it in the in the US Academy and Area studies is inherently A multidisciplinary operation. It it, it brings together humanists and social scientists and you know, indeed, people from just about every different department and program as long as they have an interest in a particular place area. 

00:12:39 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Studies grew up in the US after World War 2, and of course had a strategic component to it. But it also actually by dent, of bringing together people from different disciplines, had a major effect on on on university organization university life. 

00:12:54 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

In the post war years, and I was certainly, I was certainly influenced by. 

00:12:59 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So I was never quite sure what my real discipline was, and in fact the first thing I I did of an institutional kind was at the University of Michigan, where I built with one other colleague, a joint PhD program in Anthropology and history to give students the kind of educational opportunity I’d had sort of by by just of accident. 

00:13:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

When I was a, when I was a graduate student. 

00:13:21 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

At the university. 

00:13:22 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of Chicago. So I’ve always had this sense that we get interested in, in, in joining the academic world because we have broad interests that sometimes. 

00:13:31 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Take an expression around a particular area or topic or theme or question, but we don’t begin. As you know, political scientists or sociologists or literary scholars. And. And of course, there’s a big role for specialization in science as well as in non scientific fields. And we know that. 

00:13:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

That that has all kinds of advantages, but we also know, as a colleague of mine at Columbia used to say, that sometimes academics can be charged over the course of their lives with knowing more and more about less and less. And I always, you know, sort of bridle the bit against the kind of disciplinary. 

00:14:08 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The restrictions that I felt, you know, were very much a part of the way in which we appoint colleagues, evaluate them for promotion, recognize them for distinction and so on thinking perhaps that we needed to maintain a little bit more of the openness and intellectual wrath that brought us into this world in the first place. 

00:14:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

As as I can. 

00:14:30 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So that’s the kind of narrow academic perspective, but it does reflect itself in the work I’ve done, and even now at the New York Academy many years later, I’m certainly working to bring scientists and non scientists together to work on projects of virtually everything in in virtually everything that we do. So that’s something that certainly has has has kind of been a theme. 

00:14:50 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

All the way. 

00:14:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Through my my life and career, I’ve also, however, tried to balance something else which is on the one hand, the tendency to be, you know, sort of very kind of lonely scholar to do my writing, to do my research to, you know, to spend time in my study alone, but also my interest in in bringing that knowledge. 

00:15:12 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Into greater contact, not just with other disciplines, but with the world. 

00:15:16 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Outside, outside the study, whether that study is any university or wherever it might be, and I’ve, I’ve felt that there’s there’s, there’s a huge need to tend to break down some of the barriers between certainly between universities and and the world outside. And I think it’s had very damaging impact on certainly on American life. 

00:15:37 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Where there’s on the one hand, a kind of pervasive anti intellectualism. 

00:15:42 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

A term that has been used by a lot of different people, but a book about which was written by Richard Richard Hofstadter, who was a historian at at Columbia before my time, but which but a very, very important historian, and a very, very important book about, you know, the role of anti intellectualism in American life. And we see the relevance of that again today in a way that. 

00:16:02 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But that I think is very damaging, not just for science, but indeed for. 

00:16:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Public discourse and and our broad public political life, and I recognize that I’ve always been interested in, in, in trying to find ways for us to to think about how to make better connections between the role of the intellectual and the public sphere. That. 

00:16:27 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

It’s so important, in fact, for for our social, political, economic. 

00:16:31 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Lives and in in. In that respect, I found myself constantly getting involved in, in, in public activities that that Take Me Out of the study and and certainly coming to work at the New York Academy of Sciences is is another expression of that interest anyway. Probably a longer answer than you. 

00:16:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Intended but. 

00:16:52 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But that’s how I see, you know, some common threads across across my career. 

00:16:59 Will Mountford 

And on that note of anti intellectualism, there’s a phrase that came into public balance some seven years ago now in England. 

00:17:07 Will Mountford 

The public had had enough of experts that has had echoes in politics for, you know, the near decades since. And it’s kind of resounded across a lot of fields of application in policy for the UK. 

00:17:21 Will Mountford 

And it’s. 

00:17:22 Will Mountford 

Mirrored by some kind of tides of political terms across. 

00:17:27 Will Mountford 

The globe? Really. 

00:17:28 Will Mountford 

To highlight one of the main challenges of the 20th century of science communication was that the the scientist was correct. They had the information, and other people had to then receive that information. Would you say that from what you’ve seen over the last? 

00:17:43 Will Mountford 

20-30 years. 

00:17:45 Will Mountford 

That the 21st century of science communication has addressed any of those shortcomings, and if we’re doing any better with where we are now in terms of communicating, not just policy and science, but effective, useful information and just not kind of being the ivory tower unassailable and unimpeachable. 

00:18:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Well, you, you. 

00:18:04 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

You packed a lot of questions into that so. 

00:18:07 Will Mountford 

I can make that short of it’s any easier of. That was the last 20 years been. But I’m. 

00:18:13 Will Mountford 

A little no. 

00:18:13 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

It’s it’s. It’s interesting. I think. I think you you’ve actually made that question into a richer one and I’ll try to at least address the key. 

00:18:21 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Parts of it. 

00:18:22 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And of course, in the first instance I have to say that that that maybe we’ve learned some things, but it hasn’t necessarily reflected itself in a better situation in terms of. 

00:18:33 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Where we are. 

00:18:34 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

With science communication or with, with issues around expertise, you know, I think lots of you know there are lots of people in the world. 

00:18:42 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Communications, who have been enjoining us to think better about the ways we talk about sophisticated arcane, specialized forms of knowledge. 

00:18:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

That we need to tell stories and not just use statistics and facts if we’re going to reach a broader audience. And so on and so forth. So there’s a recognition that one has to talk to the public in a different way than one talks to ones graduate seminar and people I think have have bought into that. But has it really? Has it really helped us? Has it really? 

00:19:11 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Worked. One of the major tensions, I think over the course of the last 20-30 years has been around in the field of science anyway, has been around this sense that is pervasive and and and really persistent one that that scientific knowledge has a kind of status that demands. 

00:19:31 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Demands that we we we acknowledge that it’s it’s it’s more in some sense closer to the truth than anything else that it really is predicated on facts that it’s not contaminated by issues of human judgment and bias and and. 

00:19:45 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Like and so that has led. I think many people, and it certainly happened in the early days of the pandemic to to simply say what we need to do is follow the science. In fact, that was, you know, that was a phrase that was certainly used in the US and it was used in my Academy as well in some of its press releases that were coming out just as I joined. 

00:20:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And I you know, when you press a scientist and they and you ask them what is the. 

00:20:11 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Sense. They then will say, well, you know, the science is really about a process and it’s about a process of discovery and debate and experimentation and verification. And so of course, the science is actually a a term that refers more to a method and a process than it does to a single set of truths. 

00:20:31 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Or facts or or outcomes, but they wouldn’t say that. And we all saw the trouble that we got into during the vaccine during the the pandemic around questions of public health. Should we or shouldn’t we wear masks? 

00:20:46 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Should we be 6 feet socially distant or 8 feet or 4 feet? 

00:20:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And of course, what is the? What are the issues in taking a vaccine that hasn’t been widely tested that never been used before and so on and so forth. We we saw in real time the way science works and it was, I think, a real challenge both for. 

00:21:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For the scientific community, and indeed for the world of people who are primarily engaged in communication, whether they’re public health experts or journalists or political figures, or what have you, in all of that, of course, I think we we made a lot of mistakes and and we thought that if you, if you bring the public too much into the uncertainties. 

00:21:27 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

That are part of the scientific process and. 

00:21:30 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Then you don’t have an authoritative position from which then to say you really have to wear a mask, or you have to take this vaccine, or you have to do this, or you have to do that. And yet it backfired. And it I think it backfired in in a very in a very big way and there’s a lot of, you know, kind of as we say in the US Monday morning quarterbacking going on right now with respect to that. 

00:21:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Piece in the New York Times just a few days ago, for example, that really went through questions around what we’ve learned from the pandemic for the next pandemic. And it began with communication with the line somewhere somewhat to the effect of. 

00:22:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Communication isn’t just a part of the response to something like a pandemic. It is the response and we failed. We failed at that. Now it also taps more generally though, into what you began your question with, namely, what is the status of the expert and why is it that, whether in the UK or the US or? 

00:22:25 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For that matter, in. 

00:22:26 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Many other parts of the world. 

00:22:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Experts have they’ve lost their patina in many cases, of course. They’ve become not just objects of ridicule. We’ve always heard, at least here about, you know, eggheads and other terms used to disparage the, you know, the expert. But, but but often they’re seen as as the enemy as people, in fact, who use expertise. 

00:22:49 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Look behind that a whole set of of interests and and intentions that of course have been seen with, with perhaps greater skepticism in in the last even 10 years, both in the US and the UK than in many previous decades, perhaps going all the way back to the early 20th century when there were. 

00:23:09 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Major, major debates around everything from Darwin and creationism to just about just about everything else in in the world of scientific expertise and. 

00:23:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And this is a problem affecting not just science, but it’s affecting our politics. Now some of it, I would argue, is beyond our control. But some of it is our fault. And again, to the point I just made, I really do think that we have to be much clearer about the actual character of the development of scientific knowledge. We have to treat the public. 

00:23:41 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

As genuine interlocutors in in the work that we do, and if we bring them in more, it may not always work. 

00:23:49 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But it will. 

00:23:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Do better than it than than we did. You know, using other methods. 

00:23:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

To let people know that things do change, you know, I’m going to tell you this today about masks, but I might tell you something else in a week. If we do these experiments and we find out, you know, the following. So there’s, there’s that. And I think I think that’s been an issue. But beyond that, I also think we’ve seen the use of experts. 

00:24:15 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And the use of expertise in areas that have definitely undermined public trust, you know, in almost every trial in many judicial proceedings more generally in government hearings and the. 

00:24:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Like we bring out experts and we know that experts are often paid by one side or the other. We saw experts in in the tobacco wars and we hear experts now in the climate wars and we know you can basically find an expert to hold any position that you want if you pay them enough and. 

00:24:49 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

We also know that when experts invoke science, they often in the context of these kinds of. 

00:24:56 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Like hearings or statements are actually talking about policy, not about science and. 

00:25:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Inasmuch as that borderland borderline between what is actually the science that one is referring to and what are then the implications that might flow from a certain set of findings for some kind of policy outcome? 

00:25:18 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

We’re going to get in trouble because experts are going to effectively undermine all expertise by virtue of of of claiming too much both for themselves and for what what they’re advocating in that particular in that particular kind of exchange. So, you know, there are a variety of, I think, things that we’ve we’ve learned over the last decades about. 

00:25:38 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

About what we’ve done to make it easier for the public to distrust what we say, what we do, who we are. But but I think you know, we need to try to take these, take these instances and and and figure out better ways of proceeding in the future. 

00:25:58 Will Mountford 

With mass communication, digital communication always on Internet, the opportunity not just for anti intellectualism to flourish by attacking and denigrating people with expertise, when that expertise is put into a political form, but also pseudo intellectualism. 

00:26:15 Will Mountford 

Or exploitative intellectualism where there is perhaps debate beyond the point of usefulness around topics that by and large people can agree on with the mission of the New York Academy of Sciences to foster a culture of curiosity. 

00:26:32 Will Mountford 

Does that then bring up the necessity of not just questioning ongoing science, ongoing interventions, but looking back at past assumed conclusions and being ready to have to defend those against people who are very curious but have taken that curiosity to a a new conclusion, shall we say such as we’ve seen with some of the? 

00:26:53 Will Mountford 

Flat Earth revivalists who have decided, never mind the last 700 years of physics. I’ve got it right this time. 

00:27:01 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Yeah, you know, to your last point there, you know on the one hand at the Academy, we we advocate for much greater participation in the world of scientific, not just exploration, but deliberation about, you know what these things might mean. You know what it what it means to think about the dangers of AI and maybe we can talk about that in a second. 

00:27:23 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

As well, but we we certainly talk a lot about about participation on the one side and democratizing science and we try to do that both through our work and education as well as our work in. 

00:27:33 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Some kinds of public engagement, but on the other hand, too much participation can lead precisely to people who feel very sure of themselves. In some instances, you can call it out, as happened with the the scientific community and its reactions to Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 article. And you know, journal. 

00:27:53 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Article in Lancet, where he made the connection spurious and on the basis of fraudulent research between vaccines and. 

00:28:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Autism, by the way. It took 12 years to get once it to retract the piece, you know it. It’s a it’s a very slow process when the scientific community works. But we were able to challenge that. But and of course, I think the flat Earthers haven’t gotten a lot of traction, even though one of them is a very accomplished basketball player, can leap very high. But but. 

00:28:23 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The the kinds of anti vaccine movements that have have built so much political. 

00:28:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Power in different parts of the world that we’ve it’s hard to, you know, to talk about total democratization and and complete participation in scientific discussion. And yet, you know, anticipate how you have to at some point. 

00:28:42 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Make a scientific point that is about somebody being right and somebody being wrong, you know, so there’s that, but and perhaps the Flat Earth image here has moved me into a different into a different domain. So you can pull me back. But you know, I I’ve been reading a lot of work in the history of science as a part of my my new role at the New York Academy of Sciences. 

00:29:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

As somebody who is. 

00:29:05 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

A social scientist, not a scientist. I you know, I went back and. 

00:29:08 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I read Thomas Kuhn, his famous book from 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions that for the first time really proposed to a very broad public that science doesn’t just can consist of steady unilinear progress towards. 

00:29:25 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The ultimate knowledge, but it it it actually every now and then undergoes a total shift in the way in which we understand the world as scientists. And he called those modes of understanding paradigms and actually made paradigm into almost a household. 

00:29:42 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Term but but he also, you know, set a lot of people into, into into panic almost by suggesting that that science did fundamentally change overtime and that when you move from 1 paradigm to another, you really weren’t talking about a such a steady you know a steady progression of of of knowledge. 

00:30:02 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And and proximity to truth. And Galileo was one of those, and Copernicus were among the, you know, the most important, you know, scientific thinkers of their time and change the way in which we think about the relationship of the Earth and the sun. 

00:30:17 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And did so. Of course, you know, not unconnected to Columbus’s journey across the world, and you know, and and and recognitions that the earth is not just round, but it is also orbiting the sun, not the other way around. 

00:30:29 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And these changed fundamental things, even as Einstein of course changed fundamental assumptions that come from Newton, and today we’re seeing with quantum mechanics and the and the, the the way in which ideas like entanglement are being proved by quantum physicists that, you know, there’s some really strange things going on in the universe. 

00:30:50 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

In the universe, if you if you only take a Newtonian view, you can’t really. 

00:30:53 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Encompass all of them and in that kind of view of the world, as important as as as Newtonian physics was and is so. But the point is that that that Kuhn was associated then with the rise of what is called the you know, relativism, I suppose, is the term that’s used more than any other. And in a in some views, if you’re a relativist. 

00:31:14 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

You you have absolutely no relationship to the truth whatsoever. You know, it’s just everything. 

00:31:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

To go everything is OK now Kuhn was he had his PhD in physics and he was astonished when people told him that he was, you know, actually anticipating the student revolutions of the 1960s. He did, after all, write his book in 62 in Berkeley, just before the Free Speech movement. And I say that because I spent a good deal of time at. 

00:31:39 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

At Berkeley, so I was I went back to to, to, to think about the history of his time at the. 

00:31:44 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Diversity. But but he didn’t think that he was destabilizing science much more recently. And you know there’s a whole set of things that were unleashed, as it were, by King’s work, in which social scientists talked about the social history of science, how science is done by humans, and particular moments of history in particular. 

00:32:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Kinds of institutions and the kind of science they do is affected by that. I mean since June since 62 to the present day. 

00:32:14 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I think you can say there’s been a kind of acceptance that the history of science is a history of a human activity and not of some kind of transcendent activity. And yet one of the great sociologists of science who just died recently, Bruno Latour found himself across his career beginning by talking about how you can do a. 

00:32:34 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

An ethnographic study of a laboratory and talk about the way in which science indeed is a human activity done. 

00:32:41 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Not just humans, but humans in labs that have certain kinds of social customs and practices and almost can be looked at like an anthropological tribe of some sort. And yet on the other, as he became increasingly alarmed by by the nature of climate change, realized, the extent to which, you know, certain kinds of scientific. 

00:33:02 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Understandings and certain levels of scientific consensus. We’re actually critical to identify, to alert people to the fact that you know something. Something’s going on here and we have to do something about it. We can’t just sit back and and wait for the next paradigm. 

00:33:18 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So I’m sorry for that long discourses, but but the point is that even as we have accepted a different way of thinking about science, I think all of us who are looking at pandemics at climate change, future of artificial intelligence, the kinds of enormous power of. 

00:33:38 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Bio medical technologies including CRISPR, CAS 9, and. 

00:33:43 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Structure and things in structural biology are also realizing that, you know, there’s there’s enormous power to these to these scientific ideas. And we have to be able to talk about them better. And we also have to be able to think about their implications for our social, political, economic and social worlds more effectively. 

00:34:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And and more productively. 

00:34:05 Will Mountford 

It does come back to a point that you made earlier of the timeliness of being through the COVID pandemic in a kind of a live lab of communication. And we’re reflecting now on those lessons. Chances are, there’s gonna be a next crisis very soon after that and crisis after crisis. I wonder if there is a matter of timeliness. 

00:34:26 Will Mountford 

For all of the people outside of the scientific bubble, as it were, do you think that if someone has been through a pandemic, if someone goes through paradigm shift and has? 

00:34:37 Will Mountford 

Participated in some way. They are likely to be invested or involved in the next paradigm shift that comes along. Or do you think they might be put off the idea because of whatever failures they were in communication? If you lost someone to measles, mumps, rubella because you didn’t get a child vaccinated and then the vaccine? 

00:34:57 Will Mountford 

Comes along for COVID now. How much trust do you have in vaccine development? If it’s failed, he wants already, or if it saved your life. Do you trust it more implicitly the next time, even if necessarily the science behind it isn’t as robust. 

00:35:10 Will Mountford 

It could be. 

00:35:11 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Well, these are whole issues that I think both the Academy at large, but also the International Science Reserve in particular. 

00:35:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Are really trying to take on, you know, first of all, how do you bring people into a network where they know how to get in touch with each other, where you have some kind of idea of what what they could bring to the table in the? 

00:35:30 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Event of a particular kind of crisis that. 

00:35:34 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

As it were, or pre networked to to, to, to work together in the event of a crisis. I mean these these these seem to us to be important, if only to save precious time in the event of some kind of emergency, we sometimes call the International Science reserve because one of our board members is Reed Hoffman, who was the founder of. 

00:35:54 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of LinkedIn, a kind of LinkedIn for science, and I think that that certainly is important. 

00:36:00 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But, but you’ve raised some other questions as well that are really very much a part of the thinking that is going on in relationship to the International science reserve, namely how do we how do we think about the lessons of the pandemic and what do we take away from it. And you know what level of of confidence do we require to? 

00:36:21 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Do something that might be life saving. 

00:36:23 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And what are the trade-offs when you think about, you know, possible negative effects maybe statistically very unlikely, but nevertheless real of, you know, taking the AstraZeneca vaccine or what have you? 

00:36:36 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I mean the the. 

00:36:37 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

We have this kind of laboratory of living life of the pandemic over the last three years where we’ve. 

00:36:43 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Collectively experienced really across the globe, you know so many issues that are relevant to how we deal in the future with with questions on which science certainly has important things to say and to do. 

00:36:56 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But which will require public acceptance, public trust and public participation to actually translate into something that might we hope, you know, do something to to to deal with with not just the, you know, the acute crises, but the chronic crises as well that. 

00:37:14 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Are part of our contemporary world, so a lot of talk these days about, you know, futurism about existential. 

00:37:20 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Risk and and yet one of the debates going on even in that space is between, you know, how do you think about the long term and how do you think about the short term. We have a lot of short term issues that we need to deal with and if you only think about the long term that you just kind of take take the immediate issues that confront us as as as a society and and. 

00:37:40 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Render them less important and my view is that this is like everything else in the world. It’s it’s a hugely complex set of questions, but for scientists, our point really is to get them poised to to work in the world in a way where they can both. 

00:37:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The I think more honest about what it is they do and how they come to know what they know and perhaps also be more publicly communicative about what they don’t know. I mean, one of the things just as a ( 1 of the things you find when you actually talk to scientists and the same is true of scholars across other disciplines, is that when you actually are talking to them. 

00:38:15 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

They’re they’re much more likely to tell you what they do. 

00:38:17 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

You know than what they do know, former colleague of mine at Columbia, Stuart Firestein, A biologist, wrote a book called Ignorance. And he claims that actually, that’s how science really proceeds, because it’s all about acknowledging what you don’t know and and yet, of course, you know, the public wants to hear certain kinds of things that are more settled than less settled, more known than less known and. 

00:38:38 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

When you go to a doctor and you have a back diagnosis and you’re told that you know there’s a 65% chance of this and a. 

00:38:43 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

45% chance of that you. 

00:38:46 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Often have a fundamentally human reaction to it. You want to say, doctor, tell me what to do. What would you do? And and maybe that same question needs to go to the sciences. What? What would you do and why? And what what? What? Here. You know where here would you draw your line in the sand and and how do we find the basis for a collective agreement about doing? 

00:39:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Engaging in some kind of collective action that will, you know, with all the trade-offs and all the all the complexities and all the. 

00:39:12 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Clones nevertheless allow science to play a more productive role in society, and these are critical issues. And you know, again, whether it’s with respect to potential climate emergencies that we know are coming or whether it’s, you know, what we’re all talking about today. ChatGPT, artificial intelligence going towards artificial general intelligence. 

00:39:33 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The letter that was written on behalf of the future of Life Institute, calling for a six month pause in the developments of advanced artificial intelligence because of its threat to humanity. 

00:39:43 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

You know the real point there is to bring the scientific community and the public together. 

00:39:49 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

To to assess some of these risks and to plan for some of the things that we might do and certainly to do a better job than we did in the early days of the pandemic. 

00:40:02 Will Mountford 

Well, to just some of our framing from the political and the communication to the personal and cultural perspectives, and I’m careful to say that we’re adjusting framing and not changing topic because those two angles are so closely entwined and hard to pick apart, that if we were to look at the role of institutes as a whole and academics as individuals. 

00:40:23 Will Mountford 

To be a person of science in the public sphere and to have public involvement in your profession, how can we best protect individuals and institutes? 

00:40:37 Will Mountford 

Either misrepresentation or miscommunication, while still keeping the appropriate avenues open for having public involvement in to that professional space. 

00:40:48 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

You know, these are these are really difficult questions and they become of course. 

00:40:52 Will Mountford 

I’ve got easier ones if it helped. 

00:40:54 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Yeah, yeah. But they become even more difficult because. 

00:40:57 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of the role. 

00:40:57 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of social media and and the fact that everyone now, whether they’re tweeting or sending out an Instagram or what have you can be can enter into the public sphere in some kind of way that whether they’re an influencer or or not. 

00:41:12 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

They clearly can take their their scientific credential identity and activities and move them into the public sphere in in ways that you know might perhaps be seen as totally unregulated. And we don’t want to countenance, you know, forms of censorship and total control over what any kind of. 

00:41:32 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

When anybody says, but we also know that, you know, there’s massive, massively important consequences that attend to something that, again, as I was saying. 

00:41:40 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of experts that you know, anything that is said by by an expert on any particular issue and and so you know there are times when the scientific community has to band together, investigate and then denounce the work of of a of an Andrew Wakefield or call out RFK Junior. You know the the anti vaxxer who used to be an environmental lawyer. 

00:42:02 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Doing a lot of work on clean water and now is running for president in the US on an anti VAX campaign that again is. 

00:42:09 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Is, is, is, is is deeply. 

00:42:12 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And you have to call that to account. So there there is a way in which we are still working out that relationship between engagement in the public sphere and and the individual kind of opportunities that exist for that and the need for institutions periodically to check that, you know, I think institutions get in trouble when they assume too much. 

00:42:33 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Control over, you know, the way we talk about these issues, but they can’t abandon or advocate their role entirely. And I. 

00:42:41 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The kind of certification that comes from places like the New York Academy periodically is necessary to say, you know, no, this is not something that has any kind of scientific consensus attached to it. By the same token, this is something to which there is there is or this is something about which there is significant scientific consensus. 

00:43:00 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Namely that in the case of climate that you know that things are happening, that that are going to affect us and and in a short period of time. So how one balances all of these different kinds of questions around expression, free speech. 

00:43:15 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Expertise. The authoritative nature of of scientific or academic knowledge. You know, these are these are all issues that, that, that are that are being renegotiated in the context of a very different kind of public sphere, but ones which are absolutely necessary to to take on directly and institutions old. 

00:43:35 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Established institutions like my own have particular responsibility, I think, to to take these on. 

00:43:42 Will Mountford 

To how can scientific institutions and teams and individuals have embraced the positives of diversity, equity, and inclusion, then use that to. 

00:43:54 Will Mountford 

Encourage local communities to be more involved as well, and to reflect and to elevate otherwise excluded identities. Because you know it doesn’t factor into originally the setup of an experiment, but that the people behind whatever is happening on an institutional or academic level. There are elements of personhood. 

00:44:14 Will Mountford 

Come into the science, even if they aren’t accounted for in the original experimental design. 

00:44:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So I was thinking earlier about questions of of representation and diversity when I was making a comment about AI. And, you know, there been people recently have come out and said, you know, AI is so complex that really it’s the people in the tech industries themselves who have to decide what needs to be regulated. 

00:44:39 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Forms of governance might apply, and so on and so forth, because others won’t know. And I think we we see a particular kind of identity profile, as it were, too many of the people who work in in tech, both with respect to gender. 

00:44:52 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For race class position and with respect to industry involvement and you know perspective that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that you know that that statement is true. And Ezra Klein, in a recent podcast suggested that the major alignment problem in AI right now is not between. 

00:45:12 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Just algorithms and and certain kinds of human values, but between the fact that that that the concerns about what AI is going to do and the profit motives and and and and industrial logics of. 

00:45:29 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of profit making Will will compel you know these tech companies to do that. That really is the alignment issue. We know that in in scientific settings that the more diversity you can you can bring to the table. That is to say of the scientists who are doing the work. 

00:45:44 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The better because in fact you know, and this of course was one of the great conceits also of the of old science that you know, it’s just the great scientist who would see the truth. But the fact is people see things differently and people with different backgrounds and different identity formations and the like will see things differently. They will ask different questions and they will often see things that are missing. 

00:46:05 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And sometimes those are very practical about, you know, how you do drug trials for vaccines. And sometimes those are about even how you engage in thought experiments about, you know, fundamental cosmological principles and truths. And I think we all are recognizing that the the language of of diversity is important. 

00:46:26 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For itself. But it’s also important for science, because it really does make for better science, and it is certainly also the case that. 

00:46:34 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

When you take the term scientists Without Borders, you know you look at at science from the point of view of different parts of. 

00:46:41 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The world, as well as different social and and cultural positions within any given society, and you you recognize that that the world has looked at differently and questions are asked differently and science has conducted differently and fundamental issues. 

00:46:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The science will will become actually. 

00:46:57 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Better as a result of it. So. So it’s not just a slogan that is part of an expression of of concern that diversity is long, long overdue, historically, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also because it’s going to create better, better science. It’s certainly the case with social science. It’s certainly the case with humanities fundamental questions changed in humanistic. 

00:47:18 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Study because of social movements that brought new people into the academic world that hadn’t been there before and weren’t given a voice. So these are these are fundamental to changing the. 

00:47:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Kind of epistemological basis on which we deal with the world and now today as we see almost every issue that we’ve been talking about that connects science to the world, whether it’s with respect to viruses and what do you, what do you do when they when they’re novel, viruses that take over the world or whether you’re talking about climate or whether you’re talking about structural biology and CRISPR, CAS 9 or whether you’re talking about AI or what. 

00:47:50 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Have you? 

00:47:51 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

These are all areas in which the fundamental questions about the science involved are also questions that relate to to our, to our, to our our societies, to our politics. 

00:48:04 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And to all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily on the lab bench where the experiments are directly taking place in the first instance. So that makes a diversity of participation and diversity of perspective even more important. 

00:48:21 Will Mountford 

Any advice from a practical standpoint that you’ve gained through all of your experience in administration and in academics for how people can do the right thing by their team members success stories for times that there have been individual team members whose well-being can be catered for, can be improved, can be looked after in the face of adversity and. 

00:48:42 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Yeah, it’s sometimes easier to look at failures than successes, but the the world that that we are dealing with now has has has definitely changed and not all for the worse by any means. You know, I am a senior Indian historian. 

00:49:01 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Passed away just last week, somebody who had played a major role in the development of a new field in in, in my area of South Asian history called Cymbalta in studies, he created the whole field, in fact. 

00:49:14 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And anyway, he died at the age of 99 just just recently. But I was looking in an archive of materials about him and saw him in a in a in a workshop in the 1970s in some some undisclosed location in a British university, either in Oxford or Cambridge. And there were. 

00:49:34 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

It was amazing to see there were, there were eight men in their 50s, all white men, except for this one historian who’s from South Asia. 

00:49:42 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

They were all smoking cigarettes and cigars. They were drinking Sherry and talking about the importance of understanding the people in relationship to public ritual and and populist politics. It was a kind of, you know, extraordinary thing to watch for all kinds of reasons, but not least, to realize that such an event. 

00:50:02 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Could not happen in the in any. 

00:50:04 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of the respects in which I just narrated. 

00:50:07 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Right. And you know, not only are we a little bit healthier as a result of not not smoking as much but, but that discussion about the people but on with with an with a very exclusive, you know gendered and you know et cetera kind of identitarian perspective would have been very different and indeed today is very different as a result of much greater. 

00:50:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Much greater diversity, I think with respect to at the New York Academy and the and the work that we do at the New York Academy of Sciences, I think. 

00:50:36 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Our our greatest impact is at the level of the kind of educational work we do and the fact that we can reach young people, not just young women, but young people from backgrounds that would never have given them the opportunity to develop their interest and skills and in science to do so and to see for themselves. 

00:50:56 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

In part because of the increasing diversity of the. 

00:51:00 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Of the mentors that work with them, a future in in a world of science that they never would have imagined possible in earlier generations, and that work we do is is meaningful, and it it will frequently bring people from backgrounds that really would not have allowed them those opportunities to have a different kind of life and then to. 

00:51:20 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

You know, make science such a. 

00:51:22 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

More vital enterprise than than it’s been and and and they’ll find some of the solutions to the problems that I’ve been talking with you about today. But I also think that the other kind of success story really comes from giving teachers new kinds of tools, providing new ways of thinking about both how one builds. 

00:51:42 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

A community of knowledge and then sustains it, you know, through the variety of things that that we make available, whether specifically in education or whether in conferences or publications or other kinds of public engagements. 

00:51:56 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Yeah, these are things that that do have an impact and and we see it, you know in the early career scientific awards that we’ve been doing and getting now for some for more than a decade. You know just recently I was in the UK for these award ceremonies and the three finalists, the three laureates were all women. 

00:52:14 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

All women scientists and in biology, chemistry and physics, it’s not that we’ve created that difference. It’s obviously a lot of different people working in a lot of different. 

00:52:24 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But I see I see a much more vital community and I see a much more vital attitude on the part of this Community to taking on collective projects around the engagement of science with society. That gives me confidence and and hope. 

00:52:38 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

For the future. 

00:52:43 Will Mountford 

To come back to something that you’ve touched on with the core mission of the International Science Reserve being to get ahead of the science, you’ve mentioned AI and ChatGPT, gene editing, structural biology. Do you think there is? 

00:52:58 Will Mountford 

Any point in calling out where the next crisis might be? Or is it a matter of kind of interdisciplinary readiness that no matter what might come up, we’ve got someone in the area ready to consult, console and be ready to respond to? Or is there still an application for having a an incredibly specific tool? 

00:53:17 Will Mountford 

This is a Swiss army knife, intellectually speaking. 

00:53:20 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Part of the rationale, as you just said for the International Science Reserve is clearly to create this kind of network. I’ve spoken of and to prime it as it works, so that it’s it’s ready to, you know, get into action as needed and without without a great deal of delay. 

00:53:37 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But that’s only part of I think either what the International Science Reserve is, or certainly of what is required to make a real difference. The the great writer Michael Lewis in the US wrote a book about the pandemic in which he talked about one of the unsung heroes of the pandemic in the US local public health. 

00:53:58 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Officer, who had frequently gotten herself crosswise with with local political and other public figures in California, where she worked, who who became, you know, really a major figure in figuring in, in, in working through ways to respond in early days to the, to the pandemic. And it’s a book called Premonition. 

00:54:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

I highly recommend it, but I also take from it the lesson that you know. Partly it’s not just about tapping into the folks who you know are in the major labs and the major, the major scientific institutions, but, but allowing other people who who might get passed over or ignored. 

00:54:37 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Potential voice and and access so that they can bring oftentimes what they what they know that is really critical to the table. 

00:54:46 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And then beyond? 

00:54:46 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

That I think there is the there’s the challenge of of not just, you know, of not just connecting people and priming the pump, but using the exercises that we engage in to look at what a crisis around say wildfire or flooding or or another kind of pathogen. 

00:55:05 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Might bring but. 

00:55:07 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

To really begin to think through not just mistakes that were made, but. 

00:55:11 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But the issues that you know, the kind of less obvious issues that emerge in any given crisis, you know, we all know you have to put a. 

00:55:18 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Fire out. 

00:55:19 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

But we we know also that fires produce, you know, massive air pollution that affects people way down. 

00:55:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

End of where the actual fire is, we know that. 

00:55:31 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

That every every kind of crisis has its immediate effects, and then all kinds of much more indirect effects. And we also know that there is a kind of social structure to a crisis so that, you know, whether it’s a pandemic or or whether it’s climate change, it’s going to affect some people, some communities. 

00:55:52 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Parts of the world more than others, that those with fewer resources and they can use the term in this context, fewer reserves of capital of one kind or another, as well as. 

00:56:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Are going to be much more negatively affected by these kinds of crises, and this is not just a social justice. This is actually about recalibrating how we think about the impact of a crisis and the obligations of scientists with respect to those crises. And scientists are not there simply to create the vaccines, but they’re also there to create the. 

00:56:22 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Infrastructure of response more broadly, that will require you know everything from making sure that when you’re doing the trials, you’re actually doing the trials on the people who are going to be perhaps most resistant to taking the drug or the vaccine. 

00:56:36 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

That when you’re thinking about a climate related disaster, you’re actually thinking about the problem of what happens to people who don’t have the resources to just pick up and move in the event of a fire or a flood. And and of course, very quickly, the scientific questions and the more broad, the more broad social questions begin to blend into each other. And I say as an Academy of Sciences. 

00:56:57 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

We have to embrace that and that is. 

00:56:58 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Indeed, part of our. 

00:57:00 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Challenge and part of our mission. 

00:57:02 Will Mountford 

Well, if people want to know more about the Academy of Sciences and more about the International Science Reserve. 

00:57:07 Will Mountford 

Where can they head online to find out more about the mission and more about maybe some of those exercises and the ongoing readiness that you are going through? 

00:57:17 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So we as usual, I mean have a lot on a website you can easiest thing is just to check the website. 

00:57:28 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Which is the New York Academy of Sciences website. But there’s also a link in there to the ISR at and I don’t want to get it wrong here, so I’ll just invite people to look at the at the New York Academy of Sciences website to to get the links. But we would love. 

00:57:47 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

To hear from you. 

00:57:48 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

We sign up anyone who is interested to be part of our network and it really is about a kind of global international network of citizen scientists. 

00:57:58 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And not just about so-called experts that we’re reaching out to. And of course, we’re also very anxious to recruit new people to attend, whether online or in person are, are, are convening. So our conferences are our activities of different kinds. So. So please do check out our website. 

00:58:17 Will Mountford 

Is there any way to simply or neatly encapsulate ways to bridge divisions, heal the rifts between the Institutes of Science and the Institutes of Society as a way to bring these two together, or just recognize that they already entwined any way that those might kind of flourish in the near future? 


00:58:37 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So in 1959, CP Snow gave the wreath lecture and identified what he called the two cultures. 

00:58:47 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

As a major problem with respect to British universities at the time, and of course he meant by the two cultures, the sciences and the arts. 

00:58:55 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And he called for what he called greater bilingualism between these two very different cultures and by implication, very different languages. Although he called for for a collapse of these two cultures, we can see more than 60 years later that. 

00:59:11 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

The two cultures are alive and well, and it’s very hard to bridge them in a meaningful way and certainly in a way that would create the kind of bilingualism that he that he spoke of. But I think we’ve seen of late the absolute, absolutely critical nature of that call, since it’s only with that kind of bilingualism. 

00:59:32 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

That science is actually going to be able to confront the current and future challenges that we. 

00:59:37 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

All except our our part of our world and and and likely part of our future. So the work we’re doing at The Academy Is meant to try to address that. Obviously I’m a social scientist, as you said, and view science from a from a perspective that that attempts that kind of bilingualism, but I. 

00:59:57 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Actually, do believe that we need a more social kind of science going forward and. 

01:00:03 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Science will be more effective and it will be. 

01:00:06 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Better quote science as well, inasmuch as it does in fact take on board not only many of the questions that come out of humanities and social sciences, but the kinds of people who come out of those fields, and people who come out of those fields, both within the university and outside the university. 

01:00:23 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

So I’m looking to build the ISR as scientists Without Borders, but I’m actually looking as well to build the Academy as a place in which even the definition of the scientist doesn’t have a border either. 

01:00:37 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

And we can try to build a new kind of of collaboration and indeed a new kind of bilingual. 

01:00:44 Prof Nicholas Dirks 

Set of understandings that will enable science to deal with the incredible challenges we face in the 21st century. 



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