Slow Science and the Value of Academies

Where has the time gone?

A new group has been formed in Germany called Slow Science, an academy actually, that is trying to do something about it.  They’ve put out their Slow Science Manifesto, which is a valuable read. Like good writers everywhere they start with an eye-catching first line.

We are scientists. We don’t blog. We don’t twitter. We take our time

It’s not of course entirely true I suspect. Members of Slow Science Academy no doubt do blog and Twitter, but they got my attention with that and they should get yours, as well. There statement is that twittering and Facebooking and similar social network exchanges can’t be all there is to scholarly debate in the 21st century, and they’re right. The second paragraph in the manifesto expresses this well,

Science needs time to think. Science needs time to read, and time to fail. Science does not always know what it might be at right now. Science develops unsteadi­ly, with jerky moves and un­predict­able leaps forward—at the same time, however, it creeps about on a very slow time scale, for which there must be room and to which justice must be done.

There is great truth to that. In the climate change debate a worried public looks to science for the ‘answers’ and in many cases science simply doesn’t have them. They have facts, hypotheses, and sometimes even theories. But often they do not have ‘answers’.  The public is frustrated. They want to told if an investment is made in ‘this’ than it will result in ‘that’.  Nice, simple, straightforward cause and effect. Were that so easily accomplished.

Both science, and the world it tries to describe and understand is messy. That process, the understanding part, is slow, arduous, and frequently replete with mistakes. Mistakes are essential. Without them we fail to learn.  Of course we want to minimise those mistakes that have negative outcomes to others. But most of the time in science mistakes really means a hypothesis isn’t rejected because we didn’t really understand the environment or system in which it was asserted. That’s good. It gives us something to work on and eliminates at least one wrong direction.  But it is undeniably ‘slow’.

So here’s to Slow Science. Let the debate continue, with thoughtfulness and care, that is, slowly.


About longpd

I'm a senior scholar at Georgetown University, in CNDLS, a technologist and lapsed evolutionary biologist with an incandescent passion for new modes of seeing and learning.
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1 Response to Slow Science and the Value of Academies

  1. You’re so cool! I don’t suppose I’ve read through something
    like that before. So great to find another person with a few
    unique thoughts on this topic. Really.. thanks for
    starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

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