Tribune. Three years ago, the director of the Italian institute equivalent to our National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) resigned, due to “The rejection of scientific knowledge” by his government: ministers had allowed themselves, in the face of scientific results, to say ” I do not believe it ” by dispensing with arguing. This concerned the effectiveness of vaccines, even before our current Covid-19 pandemic. This story already revealed a crisis of scientific authority, aggravated today! If a spirit of science exists, it is clear that it is far from being shared.
There is a spirit of the laws, a spirit of the Enlightenment… but what is the spirit of the sciences? Can we say that this is what is proper to science, what constitutes it in its singularity?
The spirit of science is a concrete relationship to the world, made up of enthusiasm and attentive vigilance, rigor and curiosity, mistrust of overly academic forms of thought, freedom, trial and error and of shared uncertainties. The spirit of science, finally, proceeds from the will to understand and to make understood.
Even before the pandemic, the value placed on time for reflection declined as performance was valued. From where the confrontation of two temporalities: the hero was fast, it was the man of the brilliant blow. Pushed back into the shadows, he who chose the long term and the patient and prudent path of science. The health situation has added trouble. Specialists and scientists are omnipresent in the media. But one of the undesirable effects, without being the only one, of this visibility could well be that the uninitiated believe that they can dispense with trying to understand. The scientist has the truth, let’s follow him, let’s not waste our time reconstructing the reasoning that led him.
Myth of genius
The paradox is the following: never have scientists been so exposed – through books, journals, popular science programs – and yet the distance between their knowledge and the population, up to decision-makers, still remains immeasurable. The myth of genius, trust in “those who know” all lead to the same attitude of the uninitiated that prevails in a regime of blind belief: to the voluntary suspension of judgment.
Suddenly, the gap still exists today between, on the one hand, science and researchers and, on the other, society. Because we have made science an activity distinct from the rest of society, with citizens endowed with a particular brain and responsible for producing the science we need. To paint a picture, it’s a bit as if not being a professional athlete justifies not learning to walk, run, swim or cycle.
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“Scientists have never been so exposed, but the gap between their knowledge and the population remains”