Your Tax Dollars at Work (Seriously)
A long-standing pet peeve of mine is that so much academic research is funded by public tax dollars and yet the public is rarely given access to the findings of that research.
In a short Times piece today, I found a hero: Michael Tuts, a particle physicist at Columbia who, among other things, is doing work at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research:
Actually, I think scientists need to talk to people more. After all, we work for the people, all people, the taxpayers. We should do our bit to explain where your money is going and why our work is interesting, important, and what it means to you and your future.
Most academic journals, especially in the hard sciences, are entirely inscrutable to the layperson. This is of course for just cause: scientists need to present their findings to one another in the language they speak. But how is the public supposed to learn about the research they’ve been funding?
It is true that the newspapers are full of reports about the latest medical research, and occasionally even economics research. Such reports inevitably produce a lot of grumbling: from academics who say their research is cherry-picked or dumbed-down; from practitioners and policy makers who say that the public gets needlessly alarmed about the latest medical scare; and from the academics whose research wasn’t featured, and whose feelings are therefore hurt.
There are already far too many academic journals in the world, and, for my taste, far too many layers of government agencies, but I do dearly wish there was a good way for the astounding, complex, arcane, worthwhile, fascinating, or even ho-hum research being conducted by the tens of thousands of very smart people who use our tax dollars to make its way to the public in language it can appreciate.