researchers, science writers, editors, translators, illustrators, publishers
By P. J. Matthews (Cooperative founder)
This website and the Research Cooperative have been established for public purposes, but are the result of personal experiences, and reflect a personal philosophy. It is not expected that all members of the Cooperative will agree with the ideas expressed here. Our members have diverse experience and should have diverse ideas. For future development and management of this site and the Cooperative, I hope that the present notes will provide some guidance.
Science and society
Competition and cooperation in research
Cooperation between science and society
Records of the Research Cooperative
During study and research in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Cyprus, Egypt, and other countries (1984-2001), I encountered many different social, linguistic, and research environments. It became increasingly obvious to me that language barriers, poor writing skills, and a lack of writing mentors are huge limitations for postgraduate students and qualified researchers who wish to communicate their ideas and results. One example of a language barrier is described in an article on editing in Japan.
Language barriers and writing skills are widely recognised as limitations for communicating science, but affordable and effective solutions are not obvious. Student and research exchange programmes are very good for breaking down barriers, within and between countries, but they are expensive to run, and are not available to all people who could benefit from them.
To create this site for the Research Cooperative, I have used my own experience of research in ways that are not possible with other media. I have also been directing my own colleagues to the site when I am unable to help with direct requests for editing help, and I hope this is something other researchers will do, when they receive requests that they cannot satisfy.
I am currently operating this site at my own expense, and do not expect any immediate profit from it. In the future, when my own circumstances change, I might use the site as a vehicle for volunteer work and also to earn income. I might join as an editor, as a research consultant, or something similar. The site has been designed to allow all members to use it freely for their own particular purposes, and to change how they use the site over time, with the shared overall goal of improving research communication.
The larger public purpose of this website is to encourage more effective communication between (i) researchers who work in different languages and social circumstances, and (ii) between researchers and society generally.
Much more could be done here with the input of publicly-minded financial sponsors, and the use of part-time or full-time employees. If sponsors can be found, my main priorities will be to seek help to (i) promote the site internationally, (ii) commission relevant articles by professional science writers so that the site can become a resource for learning, and (iii) translate the site so that it can operate in other languages.
Eventually, my own role might change to being one of several advisors for development and management of the site and the Research Cooperative by others.
Different kinds of sponsorship are needed, and do not necessarily involve financial assistance (see article on sponsors).
There are also philosophical reasons for creating this site, and these are related to some basic questions concerning curiosity, competition, cooperation, and the social roles of science.
When I first began thinking about creating the Cooperative, a scientifically gifted and curious friend asked if unlimited or unbounded scientific curiosity is a good thing or a bad thing for the well-being of our species and the planet (I am paraphrasing). There are many examples of science and technology becoming tools for an all-consuming, destructive pursuit of economic growth and material wealth. Perhaps it would be better if scientific curiosity could be more controlled and limited.
The first question leads to many others: Is such self-restraint undesirable or impossible, and are we therefore doomed? Science is ultimately restrained by our social, economic and environmental circumstances, but for deliberate control, who should be in charge? How is science already controlled or led in certain directions?
Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. Regardless of how we pursue knowledge, we will always need wisdom. Even with existing knowledge, we can exterminate ourselves and other forms of life. In the face of inevitable change (regardless of human action or inaction), there will always be a place for scientific curiosity, new knowledge, and new wisdom. Science may not be necessary, but at least it can be fun, it can be a way of living, it can be an art or something like it, and it can be useful. Science can help us to discover wisdom, but it is not the only path to wisdom, and it can also lead us astray.
Wisdom - from all sources - is needed to monitor and if necessary restrain the more dangerous directions of scientific activity. Scientists are humans and social beings, like all other members of society, so we cannot expect to be free from social restraints and responsibilities.
In New Zealand - my home country - the pursuit of economic growth and export dollars seems to have been the dominant aim of most governments, politicans, and business leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. Education was promoted as a product to purchased by customers, or clients (i.e. students).
Some aspects of education and science may have improved, but the impression from afar is that education and science in New Zealand are being pushed beyond the reach of young people who lack inherited privileges. If financial and material wealth are promoted as the highest or ultimate goals for education, science, and technology, this will be a recipe for social, intellectual and spiritual poverty. It may also be a recipe for financial and material poverty.
Competition and cooperation in research
One way to counter the (so-called) economic-rationalist approach to education and science may be to actively promote cooperation. This does not mean that there should be no competition among students, teachers, researchers, and academic institutions. A balanced scientific culture must allow both competition and cooperation, and must recognise the existence of diverse ways to acquire and communicate knowledge.
Not all ways of acquiring and communicating knowledge are scientific. For science, the primary claim to social value, intellectual worth, or conceptual difference lies in the demand for self-criticism and the willingness to receive and reply to criticism from any quarter. Contrary to popular stereotypes, true science requires humility as well as an ability and willingness to speak out, and to make mistakes, and to learn from mistakes. Science serves as a buffer and as a counter-balance in a world where many kinds of non-rational or unquestioned knowledge remain necessary or unavoidable. There are benefits and dangers in all kinds of knowledge.
Depth and diversity in knowledge, constant reappraisal, and wise application: in combination, these scientific and social goals offer the best security we can hope for.
Science and the knowledge that comes from science do not belong merely to elite classes in the world. If science becomes or remains elitist (the circumstances vary in different locations), then anti-scientific thinking will become more common. Scientists should welcome open and cooperative relationships with society in general. To use a soccer analogy, our position is like that of a team that can win a match playing technical soccer, but might win a larger fan base and more secure, long-term support by playing beautiful soccer.
Science does not need public relations, it needs the public.
Technical science can be useful, but beautiful science will attract a wider range of people as students and lay participants. Without active and positive relationships between science and society, science faces poor recruitment, decline, and a grinding inadequacy in its efforts, relative to a world of trouble.
Improving communication between science and society is one of the main goals of this Cooperative. Improving communication between researchers is just a starting point. Science cannot survive as a narcissistic enterprise that holds itself in high self-regard. It needs the public.
Records of the Research Cooperative
Various notes have been written to record the plans and development of the Research Cooperative. I conclude the present note with an index that will be updated occasionally, as time permits:
Our first 100 members, a number to celebrate
A survey of our first 200 members
A survey of our first 400 members
Membership numbers (not a good measure of activity, unfortunately!)
Last updated by Peter J. Matthews Jan 15, 2013.