Saturday, 15th of February 2014, ten minutes before 15 o’clock. A bunch of people romp about at Praça Luis de Camões, Lisboa. There is a group of people playing rhythmic music, music that normally accompanies Capoeira. The vibe of the music is like a heart beating on high adrenalin, activating the sympathetic nervous system of all the people aware of what will happen within just a few minutes.
The clock strikes 15 o’clock. A female and a male Ph.D. student standing right next to the Camões statue, facing down to Chiado are unrolling a paper sign: “SEM a CIÊNCIA o MUNDO PÁRA”, without science the world stops. The capoeira musicians stop playing their rhythmical music, two girls holding balloons release them into the air, a couple jamming with their guitars stop, more than 50 people abruptly freeze in whatever movement or behavior they were just engaged in, and there are the dogs, which stop barking, rubbernecking to figure out what just happened.
On the 15th of February, 2014, at 15 o’clock, the vibrant atmosphere of Praça Luís de Camões just froze.
For three minutes people, scientists or non-scientist, working-colleagues, friends, or total strangers gathered to give science a face, to demonstrate that without science, the world would stop.
Following the latest abrupt reduction of the number of Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) PhD and post-doc fellowships, the problems with the management of application lists, and especially the drastic changes in the government’s strategy to manage the scientific system in Portugal, a group of people from different institutes from Lisboa, Porto and Braga joined to organize a flash-mob. This event intended to demonstrate that those changes in regulation don’t affect only individual basic science researchers, but the whole Portuguese population, and actually the whole world.
With this initiative we wanted to awake society to recognize the important role that scientific development plays in everyone’s lives, here in Portugal and the rest of the world. Scientific and technological research drives progress, innovation and development. Science is an important pillar of society. Science generates knowledge, knowledge to allay the human nature’s thirst for understanding how the world works, consequentially improving life quality and healthcare, generating knowledge to pass on to our future.
Unfortunately, sometimes we fail to appreciate how many years of basic research have gone into keeping us relatively healthy throughout our daily lives, and into the different technologies that make our lives so much easier.
For example, we might take for granted that we can switch a button to turn light on and off at will, ignoring the fact that many years of basic research were spent to understand how we can produce and use electricity to be able to read a book before falling asleep at night without firing up the house. It took about 278 years from William Gilber’s early description of electricity and magnetism in 1600 until Thomas Edisons’s commercially available long-lasting light bulb was lit in 1878.
As a consequence of studying different phenomena of nature, by simply trying to understand how things work, knowledge is acquired while different techniques and technologies are established, which, when applied, end up being incorporated into our daily lives to improve everyone’s living standards on different levels.
To understand that we need, science is as simple as understanding that washing your hands with soap prevents you and others from getting sick. Maybe one is not aware, but it was only around 167 years ago, that Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian obstetrician during the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy in 1847, discovered that washing hands with chlorinate lime solutions drastically reduced the number of puerperal fevers. Hard to believe, but Semmelweis´s theories were at first rejected by the medical community. Several years later, Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist, discovered the pathology of puerperal fever and performed experiments to elucidate the relationship between germs and diseases, supporting with many other researchers the germ theory of diseases and the usage of soap. Pasteur is actually best known for inventing the technique of pasteurization, a process to reduce the number of pathogens in foods like milk and alcoholic beverages. Further, not content with that, Pasteur created vaccines for chicken cholera, anthrax and rabies. With this achievements profits, Pasteur founded the Pasteur Institute in 1887, which sustains until today his commitment to basic science research and its practical application. Funding an Institute for basic research was not only a matter of giving back to the field where Pasteur succeeded from, but his greatest legacy to future generations.
Today, science is driven by public funding allowing everyone who is curious the possibility to learn, explore different scientific niches, improve and maintain the flow of human knowledge.
It is up to society as a whole, you and me, scientist or non-scientist, to realize the importance of funding basic research as a means of investing in our future.
Without science there is no human growth, no technological advances, no knowledge generation and the world stagnates. Science is knowledge and without an investment in science the world as we know it would not be possible.
Without science the world would stop.
Simone Lackner studied Molecular Biology at the University of Vienna.
As a PhD student at the Champalimaud Neuroscience Program, she
investigates the neural basis of locomotor behaviors of larval zebrafish
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