This week I am in Weehawken, New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan attending the 6th Annual In-FLAME Global Network meeting on the theme of “Building Resiliency: Inflammation, Ecosystems and the Transformation of Global Health”.
The In-FLAME Network was established in 2012 and addresses the risk factors, pathways and strategies to overcome the rising propensity for chronic inflammatory disorders, with a focus on early effects on the developing immune system. The members of the network are working on an integrated program of population studies, biological studies and intervention studies aimed at preventing inflammation and the burden of subsequent disease.
While meetings such as this are always a great chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones, they also provide a chance to reflect on your own research, to get new ideas, instigate new collaborations and place your work in the broader landscape and think about why we do science.
The meeting was opened this morning by Professor Susan Prescott (@Susanprescott88) from the University of Western Australia reflecting on ecological justice and dysbiosis, “life in distress“, the result of the modern environmental changes that adversely affect ecosystems, progressively displacing “green space“ with “grey space“ in our towns and cities, and creating conditions that erode physical, mental and societal health from the first moments of life.
In her talk, she highlighted how societal factors such as income disparity, lack of evidenced based public policy and the influence of corporate lobbying, and marketing, interfere with the fundamental rights of children to thrive in a healthy urban ecosystem and learn respect for the natural environment. If you want to read more about this, then I can recommend her excellent article written with Alan Logan,1 or her excellent books for the general audience (find out more here).
Susan is a passionate scientist and excellent communicator who is a real advocate for social change. She shows us all how sometimes it is not enough to do good science and hope that it is used by society. We need to go further and ensure that science doesn’t just stay in its bubble, that there is awareness amongst the public and politicians of the implications of our work and how it could be used to benefit society.
I have already talked in a previous blog of the importance of communicating science to the public and the value of engaging them in our research projects. However, it is possible to go beyond this and directly impact society through advocacy or influencing public policy.
For some this may involve direct action, as tens of thousands of people did on the streets of London and many other cities around the globe on April 22nd in demonstrations in support of scientific research and evidence-based policymaking.2,3
The March for Science was organised after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, in response to concerns about his administration’s attitude toward science.
For others, the opportunity to shape society may be through working with politicians to affect public policy through providing expertise and assessing evidence. The University’s PublicPolicy|Southampton unit was established to connect researchers and policymakers through fellowship programmes, capacity building and engagement activities to better support evidence-based policymaking.
If you think your research has implications for society that need to be reflected in government policy then PublicPolicy|Southampton can support you either via its impact training programme, a tailored impact toolkit or guidance for ways to engage. Check out the PublicPolicy website for more information.
We live in interesting times with large changes in world geopolitics, shaping the society we live in. Sometimes we need to stand up for what we believe in and know to be scientific truth and, instead of leaving politics to the politicians, get involved ourselves.
Professor John Holloway, Associate Dean (Research)
- Susan L. Prescott and Alan C. Logan. Transforming Life: A Broad View of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Concept from an Ecological Justice Perspective. J. Environ. Res. Public Health2016;13(11):1075. doi:10.3390/ijerph13111075
- What happened at March for Science events around the world. Nature 2017;544:404–405 (27 April 2017) doi:10.1038/nature.2017.21853
- Live updates from the global March for Science. Science 2017. doi: 10.1126/science.aal1092