Who Owns Science? Bayer Foundation at Berlin Science Week
It seems obvious that historical artefacts would be one of the most interesting things to see at the National History Museum in Berlin, but that wasn’t the case on November 4th. As part of Berlin Science Week, the museum let go of its focus on the past and instead explored the future. With people of all ages and backgrounds there, it was a great setting for Bayer Foundation to again ask the ever-important question: Who owns science?
Data shows there are clear inequalities in science. The probability of black researchers being awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health in the United States is 55% that of white researchers with similar academic track records. Institutions in Europe and North America receive 78% of funding for climate research relating to Africa, while African institutions receive only 14.5%. Recent data also suggests only 24% of the STEM workforce in the UK are women.
To understand personal experiences, Bayer Foundation invited people exploring the museum to share their own scientific journey in a social brainstorming experiment. While some responses parallel published data, there are still a lot of very personal situations, and clearly no one shared experience.
“Should I have done a PhD?,” contemplates one respondent. “I’m 40 years old… is it too late?”
“I thought computer science was for boys,” wrote another.
Some had to give up on science due to a lack of support from their family, and one woman spoke of how her husband discouraged her from doing a doctorate just because he didn’t have one. On the flip side, many young people feel inspired to engage with science by the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
With inequalities in science shared anecdotally and backed up by data we need to ask: what can be done to make science more equitable?
An important question, and the basis of the panel discussion hosted by Bayer Foundation and SciCo.
Theo Anagnostopolous, a science communicator and social entrepreneur, was the moderator for the discussion. Joining him were Emmanual Adukwu, a microbiologist and educator; Simge Davulcu Menket, a professor in organic chemistry and entrepreneur; and Martin Luxemburg, a social entrepreneur and impact investor. With a packed audience on a cool, wet autumn day, there was clearly an appetite for this discussion.
Three case studies highlighted approaches to making science more equitable. An educational project which brought the Pomaks – an isolated mountain community in Greece – together with other children to not only learn about science, but to bridge community divides. WISPA – an app which helps people in Nigeria to access sexual health information and services, something that is certainly not a given, especially for young women. And finally, a research hub at Lautech University in Nigeria that aims to improve regional research and clinical practice relating to infectious disease.
“I believe education plays a vital role in bringing communities closer together, both culturally and scientifically,” says Menket, discussing the project with the Pomak community. She added that science camps and festivals are a good way of doing this, and that, if we are to build a sustainable future, working together is vital.
With regard to WISPA, Luxemburg talks about how this is “an example of how to make science accessible to people in a way they can do something with it.” He adds that a likely reason for success is that it was developed by a female entrepreneur within the community.
In places like Nigeria, Adukwu talks about issues like brain drain and researchers being unable to pay fees for journals to publish their science. Referring to global problems like COVID-19, he said, “Infections and diseases have no boundaries: if we’re funding research, we should be funding research everywhere.”
When asked by the audience about how to get children more engaged in science, Menket talks about how the way science is taught in schools largely isn’t working. “Explaining the topic isn’t inspiring them enough,” she said. With time running out, Anagnostopolous finished with a fitting statement.
“We won’t have good access to science for everybody until everybody is represented in science,” he said.