I appreciate the attention that BioScience grants to science communication issues. Thus I read with pleasure the BioScience editorial “Framing Biology” (56: 555), where Timothy Beardsley describes the importance of framing the communication activities of scientists in a context. We cannot disagree with Beardsley when he says that “researchers may have to shoulder more of the burden of communication themselves”in order to avoid “marginalization in an unsympathetic political climate.”
I would add that there is a further reason to carry the burden of public communication: avoiding the political exploitation of science. If scientists, as a community, choose “to lament ignorant attitudes [of the public] and return to their terminals,” denying the effects of their research on society and avoiding any debate at the socioethical level, then they leave the door open for using science as a political instrument. The denial of the political role of science is itself an implicit political action.
So we should not be ashamed to openly discuss the “surrounding picture” of our laboratory experiments, including their social implications. Maybe it is time to redefine our practice.
How to do that? We could start from our communication structure. Beardsley suggests that we have to learn to “acknowledge that [we] too are human beings with passions and cares.” It can be the starting point for initiating a self-reflexive approach that can build foundations for a more transparent, socially robust scientific activity. So why not try to include in our papers also the social and ethical dimensions of our work? Implementing this idea, we would exercise the use of ethical and social argument, making it natural to speak outside the technicalities of the language of our community. Moreover, some reflections on the social consequences of our research in everyday practice will probably raise fruitful debate within the scientific community. As framing theory suggests, “the way the story is told—its choice of a narrative and framing—determine how we understand the problem and solution” ( www.frameworksinstitute.org). So innovative scientific approaches could arise from changing the way we describe our scientific issues.
This could be the first step for truly framing biology (and science in general), that is, considering our work in its societal context.