Most science isn’t glamorous or performed in the public eye. Not everyone can be Benjamin Franklin flying a kite during a lightning storm or Marie Curie isolating radium. Most scientists never become household names, but they engage in work that can save lives, solve problems, and move the human race forward. Science affects everyone whether we know it or not. Here are 15 reasons why science is important:
#1. Science teaches you how to think analytically
Good science isn’t just about facts and figures. It teaches you how to think. When you study science, you learn how to organize and analyze huge amounts of data. You learn how to determine what’s good evidence, what’s bad, and what needs to be studied more. This type of analytical thinking is important in many other fields.
#2. Science teaches you how to solve problems
When you’re facing a problem, you can use science to help you solve it. Emergency medicine physician Gurpreet Dhaliwal, who was featured in a blog for Scientific American, is an expert in “clinical reasoning.” This is a type of applied problem-solving that uses science to solve problems. He uses a four-step method as a guide. Pioneered by mathematician George Polya, the steps are: understanding, creating a plan, seeing the plan through, and looking back to learn from the solution. Dhaliwal believes the key to good problem-solving is finding solutions that best match the problem. Science helps him get there.
#3. Science has many benefits for young students
When they’re young, students are building lots of skills they’ll need later in life. Science helps with many of them, such as clear communication, strong focus, and good organization. Studies show that students usually first become interested in STEM when they’re in elementary school. Supporting that interest helps kids build confidence in scientific subjects. This can lead to more opportunities down the road.
#4. Science led to the creation of technologies we use every day
Science isn’t limited to the study of the natural world, disease, or human lifespans. Without science, we wouldn’t have technologies like computers, the internet, cars, and so on. These inventions transformed how humans live in the world, including how we travel, how we communicate, and how we learn. These inventions in turn facilitate new scientific discoveries and innovations, like DNA sequencing, space exploration, artificial intelligence, and more!
#5. Science careers pay well
Science matters because it can be a lucrative career. There’s a wide variety of fields where science is applicable, such as medicine and computer science. Some careers are accessible with just a bachelor’s degree, though the best-paying jobs typically ask for more education. Scientists who work for federal governments tend to make the most, though it depends on where you’re from. For many people, science is a way to build generational wealth and end cycles of poverty.
#6. Science helps us live longer
The link between scientific advancements and longer life expectancy for humans is impossible to ignore. Without an understanding of germs or effective medical treatments, humans in the past were extremely vulnerable. In Europe from the 1500s to the 1800s, people could expect to live between 30 and 40 years. In 2019, people in Europe had a life expectancy of around 80 years old. There are many reasons for this increase – including better nutrition and better medicine – but they’re all connected to science in one way or another.
#7. Science gives us cleaner drinking water
Humans need water to live, but when water isn’t clean, it can be deadly. Contaminated water and poor sanitation can spread diseases like typhoid, polio, and cholera. Cases of cholera, which is caused by bacteria, have been recorded as far back as the 4th century BCE. Between 1852-1923, four cholera pandemics affected the world. The third was the worst and killed 23,000 people in Great Britain in 1854. That was also the year John Snow, a physician, created a map of cases. His scientific research helped him identify the source: contaminated water from a public well. Science has also helped authorities clean up water supplies. The United States, which has some of the safest drinking water in the world, decreased its waterborne diseases significantly by disinfecting community drinking water.
#8. Science reduces child mortality
Humans used to be extremely vulnerable, but the truth is that we’re still vulnerable in a lot of ways. There are still many reasons why a child might not live to become an adult, including poverty and disease. In 2019, the WHO calculated that over 5 million kids under 5 years died of mostly preventable and treatable causes. Because of science, experts can pinpoint the causes (like waterborne illness and malnutrition) and work to change things. Science also helps doctors learn more about pediatric cancer and other threats to a child’s life.
#9. Science informs us about climate change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was founded in 1988, has been studying climate change for decades. Its most recent findings forecast a grim future. Climate change is both more severe and more widespread than previously thought. Inequality, conflict, and irreversible damage will only intensify without intervention. Without science, we wouldn’t have an understanding of climate change’s effects or even its existence. The greenhouse effect was discovered in the 1820s and by the end of the 19th century, a Swedish scientist reasoned that human-driven C02 emissions raise the global temperature. Without science, we wouldn’t know why the earth was warming or what to do about it.
#10. Science helps us find alternatives to fossil fuels
Science tells us burning fossil fuels causes climate change, but it also helps us find alternatives. The sun, wind, and planet hold a variety of renewable energy sources. Humans have known about the power of the sun and wind for millennia, but modern science has helped us harness it more efficiently and on a much bigger scale. We’ve also discovered energy sources in plants (in the form of biomass) and within the earth itself (geothermal). Technologies like wind farms, electric cars, solar batteries, and more are also a result of science. As climate change worsens, the world needs to commit to the study and use of renewables. Good science is essential.
#11. Science helps us prepare and respond to disasters
More frequent weather-related disasters are one of the consequences of climate change, but science can help us better prepare. An article from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences’ “The Public Face of Science” project gives several examples of how science helps people prepare and respond to disasters. Scientists were responsible for studying the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Understanding disasters (both natural and man-made) through a scientific lens helps experts and communities develop better preparation and mitigation plans.
#12. Science lets us study the possibility of life on other planets
Are we alone in the universe? This question has haunted humans for as long as we’ve looked up into the night sky. Science, like the kind that goes on at the SETI Institute, helps us with the answer. The Institute began with NASA’s SETI program (SETI stands for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) but it’s since grown into 100 scientists and specialists in outreach, administration, and education. Its research uses telescopes, lab research, field expeditions, advanced data analytics, and more. While humans have yet to find evidence of life on other planets, new science like multifrequency receivers, machine learning, and optical telescopes will help researchers refine their search.
#13. Science teaches us about the past
Science is often thought of as a future-focused endeavor, but it can be used to unlock mysteries about the past. Archaeological science, which is the application of scientific techniques to archaeological materials (like bones), helps us understand things about the plants, animals, and humans that came before us. The study of King Tutankhamun is a great example. In 2010, after two years of work, scientists completed the first DNA study of an ancient Egyptian mummy. Using a CAT scanner and DNA analysis, they found evidence of a club foot, cleft palate, and the DNA from the malaria parasite. They determined that King Tut most likely died from complications of a broken leg and malaria. The study also revealed that Tut’s parents were brother and sister, which was common for Egyptian royalty.
#14. Science can be weaponized
Our discussion of science has been positive so far, but it’s important to acknowledge that the field is not a neutral, benevolent force that exists outside of humans. It has a long history of serious flaws, including racism. There’s even a specific term: scientific racism. This is the belief that “race” is a biological reality and that some races are genetically superior. Scientific racism first emerged in the 18th century and was mostly an attempt to understand differences between cultures. European scientists brought all their prejudices and biases with them. As an example, in 1758, Carl Linnaeus divided humans into four main sub-groups. Groups from Asia and Africa were called, respectively, “greedy” and “sluggish.” People from Europe were classified as “light” and “wise.” Scientific racism evolved over the decades and was used to justify horrendous events in history such as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Holocaust. To prevent the weaponization of science, it’s essential to acknowledge its history and combat racism.
#15. Trust (and distrust) in science has big consequences
Public trust in science has been eroding. There are several reasons for that (including science’s history of racism), but one of the more recent drivers comes from oil companies sowing seeds of doubt about climate change. While their own research showed how serious climate change was, their public stance was “The data is inconclusive.” This doubt didn’t remain walled within climate change issues. It’s spread to every area of society, including public health. We can see the consequences of distrust in science everywhere. Social media algorithms fuel misinformation and the truth can’t keep up. If the world hopes to continue to reap the benefits of science, science literacy and public trust must be prioritized.