Should scientists act?

Is it enough that scientists only publish their findings? Or should they actively promote them? In many cases the answer is the latter. If the researcher believes the world would be a substantially better place if their research findings were implemented, they must render their results generally understandable and pass them to decision-makers and the general public and recommend they act. Scientists must advocate, not merely report. Just standing by is not good enough.

An example is the study of human decision-making. Psychology, or behavioral science, has long researched how humans make decisions, and much of this material could be used to help us decide better. Yet politicians and CEOs show little knowledge of this material. Why? Is it because nothing of substance has been found? Or is it because those engaged in decision research are so fearful of being criticized as popularist or ‘unscientific’ that they fail to re-write and popularize it, that is, they fail to make their findings accessible?

This is not a trivial matter. In the era of global warming, environmental decay, species loss, and pandemics, societal decisions must be based on (1) the best scientific evidence regarding our physical world – oceans, energy, atmosphere, plastics, etc. and, (2) processes of human decision making that are valid and effective. Each area is critically important. In each, we need scientists to reach out and teach us how it is best to act.

I have tried to do my bit. After a career as a cognitive psychologist and public health academic consulting to governments and NGOs, I have written a book on the applied science of making big decisions. It’s called ‘Einstein’s Last Message: Saving our world by changing how we think.’ It takes the scientific decision literature and analyzes it, and uses anecdotes to illustrate the points. Then it sets out lessons for avoiding bad decisions and changing them to good ones.

It’s not the last word on making our big decisions good ones, but it’s a start.

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