Building society into your DNA

15 April 2016
Science for society
The relation between science and society is the subject of social research. First there was ‘science and society’, then ‘science in society’ and the latest trend is to talk about ‘science for society’. Scientists should conduct their research for the benefit of society, with the aim of developing innovations suited to the needs of the end user.

Basic VIB research
Although VIB research is somewhat fundamental and may seem distant from practical applications at times, it still relates to the societal challenges of food and health. The ‘science for society’ is immediately apparent when researchers identify new targets for the prevention and treatment of sepsis. But if you are working on the details of the biophysical properties of enzymes, this relationship may be less apparent.

Stay connected with society

Besides staying tuned to societal challenges, scientists should be aware of the values, expectations and views of important stakeholder groups when it comes to what is going on in the labs.

The best way to stay connected to society and foster a beneficial relationship built on trust, is to incorporate this factor into your own life and decisions. Does this sound a bit theoretical and vague? For example, if you do experiments with animals you should consider both the importance of the health challenge and the rights of animals to be protected against unnecessary pain and suffering. On one hand, there are patient groups that want scientific breakthroughs to help fight their diseases; on the other hand, there are activist groups that oppose the use of animals in research. You cannot ignore this issue. The more seriously you consider all these values, the better you will be able to motivate your work and the more your research will be valued and trusted.

Communicate about your research
One other important way to foster a healthy relationship between scientific research and society is by being transparent and open about your work. If you have the opportunity to talk to relevant stakeholders about your research and the things that drive you, please do so. Perhaps you will be surprised by some of their questions. Of course VIB also has an important role to play as an organization, in staying tuned to societal concerns and in communicating about our work. However, it is not enough to try to build these issues into the DNA of VIB as an organization. It should also be incorporated into the DNA of each and every one working for VIB. We are always looking for enthusiastic scientists who would like to contribute in science communication.