The song fits a landscape which, once covered with sheep, has recently been converted to dairyland. Wherever I go in New Zealand, I seem more likely to run into a herd of mooing milk producers than the skittish balls of wool the country is known for.
I’d been in New Zealand two days, and there’d been two shark attacks in Australian waters. The latest victim, a good-looking snorkeling guide who seemed remarkably cheerful about the whole business (“Must have great pain meds,” my hostess said), couldn’t wait for his arm to heal so he could get back in the water.
I find myself doing such hard thinking at odd intervals, usually when science is treating me either very poorly or very well, or when some environmental catastrophe rouses the media. Mostly, I ask myself, “Does this research matter? Am I doing enough?”
It wasn’t until my next flight had lifted off, treating me to a panoramic view of dawn over the southern Pacific Ocean, that I realized the irony of what I’d done. Overnight, a plane had carried me across the world’s biggest body of water, containing the world’s largest trash dump, the Pacific Garbage Patch. In the morning, I had, though indirectly, contributed to its continued expansion.
How can I reconcile what I know about the personhood of employees with the faceless and troubling power that big business wields on Wall Street and Capitol Hill?
But today, as pennies are being pinched and a growing faction actively denies the societal value of scientific knowledge, those of us working in basic science are feeling a bit on edge. As evidenced by scores of cell biologists linking their work to cancer biology, and numbers of ecologists citing the impacts of climate change, we’re all looking for ways to make our work immediately relevant to society’s needs.