A mysterious webpage has caught my eye in the last couple of weeks. Slow science.
A one-page website, it contains simply a manifesto, beginning with the paragraph: “we are scientists. We don’t blog. We don’t twitter. We take our time.” And ending with the phrase: “bear with us while we think”.
I initially felt irritated by Slow Science’s post. I wasn’t sure what it was protesting against and I thought it was negging science communication. I don’t see anything wrong with scientists blogging and tweeting about what they are up to, in fact I think it helps people understand and engage with science. But I don’t think Slow Science is trying to argue against communicating science clearly. I think it is trying to argue something broader about science being allowed to take its time to come to conclusions rather than being pressured into discovering something quickly.
It called to mind an interview I watched recently, at the Guardian masterclass on science writing, where Alok Jha asked various scientists about what the point had been of finding out about the Human Genome. One of the questions he asked was something about what benefit this had had, after all the billions of pounds that had been spent.
A fair question. And also one which we can’t answer yet. Perhaps we should be evaluating science in terms of its wider benefits, especially when it costs so much. But maybe there is also something valuable about the search of knowledge for its own sake. Studying without necessarily knowing the longer term benefits allows for the fortuitous tying together sometimes, of tiny bits of theory and evidence which on their own mean nothing but which woven together make a life-changing difference.
Slow science’s manifesto reminds me of mindfulness, the practice of being in the here and now rather than trying to rewind to the past, or more pertinently for this, fast forward to the conclusion. Perhaps Slow Science is also Mindful Science.