What is and what ought to be

De wetenschap worstelt altijd met de ogenschijnlijke tegenstelling tussen leren hoe de dingen zijn en een mening hebben over hoe ze zouden moeten zijn. Volgens Meagan Curtis van de Universiteit van Toronto, is dat geen reden om je als wetenschapper niet over het ‘ought’ te buigen. Hieronder haar betoog naar aanleiding van de aftrap van MACADEMICS van 22 mei.

MACADEMICS’ kick-off event was a timely discussion about the relationship between activism and science. Although scientists are no doubt concerned with the question of what is, the question of how things ought to be is undeniably also part of their research. How this normativity is confronted (or evaded) differs across disciplines.

My research interest is in ecological restoration and conservation. One could argue that the central claims of these disciplines are ethical in nature – claims about how ecosystems ought to be. Many ecologists or biologists do see their concerns as tied to the wider social and political structures, but the step towards becoming a public, rather than strictly disciplinary intellectual, may be an uneasy one. Reasons for this are multiple. Beyond internal university governance issues, how individuals believe science and the socio-political sphere should or can meet is telling.

The fact remains that there is a plenitude of useful ‘unheard science’. What may be required is a more positive belief in the process of taking ideas beyond disciplinary lines into scenarios governed by different standards. That this can cause frustration is a given, so it must be affirmed that patience, understanding and compassion are also part of the communicative process – the process of dissemination.