Science has an essential role is to play in modern society. Science is the engine that allows the economy to grow; it creates the innovation for new devices and new knowledge for that improves lives. Currently, we are depending upon science to develop a vaccine to rescue us from the COVID-19 pandemic. But developing the vaccine is only one step towards ending the ongoing tragedy; recent polls found that as few as 50% of Americans are willing to be vaccinated. Science is not enough, people need to be able to understand the knowledge that is gained through science and trust its application.
Universities can be thought of as a business that produces and distributes a product, Knowledge. They also train new workers to manufacture the product and consumers on how to use knowledge. As part of my job as a University professor, I run a lab in which we are conducting experiments that reveal new knowledge about the neural basis of behavior in sea slugs. I also teach courses about how the nervous system works. I have trained dozens of students over the years to become scientists. Most of the students I have taught will not become professors, they may never directly use the knowledge that we generated about sea slug brains. But I hope that all have learned something more general, how to think critically and use the knowledge that science generates.
As we prepare for the early start of the fall semester this month, there is a lot of concern about how we will run our business, the University, safely and effectively. We are de-densifying our labs to minimize risk to people who perform research in them. We are preparing to teach our courses remotely to minimize risk not only to our students but to the larger community.
The hardest part is figuring out how to create the learning communities that make up the University. We are slowly adapting to our new online environment of talking heads on screens. I hope that it is sufficient to build the camaraderie and friendships that are an integral part of the University experience. It is important for the enterprise of the University that we continue to be effective at making and distributing our product and training the end users. Our lives literally depend on it.