The internet is abound with thinkpieces about the election of Donald Trump, and I won’t bore you with my own views, aside from one: I hear a lot of scientists saying that their work is the least important thing now; that science has slipped down their personal agenda; that there are bigger fish to fry.
I can understand why many of us feel this way, particularly in the immediate aftermath of such a calamitous election, but it’s mistaken.
Science matters now more than ever. Despair is an indulgence we cannot afford.
There are two existential threats posed by Trump – one that I think is mostly hyperbole, and another that is deadly and very real. The first is nuclear holocaust; the second is climate change. The threat of nuclear war is a Hollywood fantasy that will almost certainly never happen because all sides know that it guarantees mutual, permanent annihilation. The second is globally disastrous and nearly certain if the world doesn’t commit to mass action. If Trump withdraws the US from the Paris agreement, and global temperatures continue to rise, then the consequences for life on Earth are appalling. If temperatures rise by just 6 degrees then most life on Earth will become extinct, including us. None of the shit we think is important now – nothing – will matter a damn.
This really brings home for me why open science and evidence-based policy are so vital. Science must be open to be reproducible and, in turn, to have any chance of being valued in politics. And policy based on evidence is our ticket – our one ticket – to survival. I know now that attempting to make these normative will be my life's work in academia. Every day I will focus my efforts even more on our ongoing projects to promote open science and the use of evidence in policy-making.
To all scientists: now is the time to go all in and make your work as open as possible – if not for yourself then for your children and for their children. The more scientists who adopt open practices, the more normative they will become and the better chance humans have to still be here in a century’s time.
Before Brexit and Trump we could perhaps think that the wisdom of crowds would prevail and civilisation would proceed inexorably toward a Star Trek future. We now know that this is bullshit. The wisdom of crowds is bullshit. Civilisation is fragile, a thin veneer hard fought for and easily shattered.
It doesn’t matter if your work is in a field that you consider relevant to global problems like climate change – we can never predict which areas of science might one day form the basis of a solution to a problem. Adopting open practices across as many fields as possible sends the message that science needs to be transparent, reproducible and usable by anyone.
So, please, if you are not already doing so, publicly archive your data, materials and code, pre-register your hypotheses and analysis plans, and publish your work through open access routes. Focus on getting your science right rather than hacking your way to glam papers, climbing the greasy pole, or building your empire. Recognise your own bias: don't confuse the window to the natural world with a mirror. Be vocal in communicating your work in schools and to the public, particularly outside your echo chambers, to the people in your community who are the most skeptical or suspicious about science. Be politically active in highlighting the importance of evidence-based policy. Science funding is likely to become increasingly limited so make your science count. As scientists we are indoctrinated with the notion that competition matters but it doesn't. Cooperation is far more important, and we are all on the same team now. Team survival.
Whatever field you work in, your work counts and so does your voice. The world needs to survive at least four years of Donald Trump, and hell knows whatever worse may follow him.
I look at my daughter, who is ten months old, and I realise that she and her children will be the ones who will live with the choices we make today. She is why open science matters.