Why the web has challenged scientists’ authority – and why they need to adapt

Andrew J. Hoffman at The Conversation: “Academia is in the midst of a crisis of relevance. Many Americans are ignoring the conclusions of scientists on a variety of issues including climate change and natural selection. Some state governments are cutting funding for higher education; the federal government is threatening to cut funding for research. Resentful students face ever increasing costs for tuition.

And distrustful segments of society fear what academia does; one survey found that 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country.

There are multiple causes for this existential crisis, but one in particular deserves special attention. The web is fundamentally changing the channels through which science is communicated – who can create it, who can access it and ultimately what it is. Society now has instant access to more news and information than ever before; knowledge is being democratized. And as a result, the role of the scientist in society is in flux.

But rather than facing this changing landscape head on, research shows that many in academia are resisting its inevitability. In many ways, this response has parallels to that of the Catholic Church in the wake of the invention of the printing press and its role in hastening the Protestant Reformation. I hope this comparison offers a compelling provocation for the scientific community to come to grips with the cataclysmic changes we are now living through and ignore at our peril….(More)”.