Ask a Researcher: What if Scientists Ruled the World?


The need to live a research-based life and make our decisions according to science is ever more becoming an issue. In science fiction, readers are introduced to worlds led by scientists. Arko Olesk, lecturer of research communication at Tallinn University Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School says that even science does not hold the final truth.

In his book New Atlantis, British philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon depicted a utopian society, where one of the most prominent organisations was the Salomon’s House – an institution dedicated to science. Today, there are many discussions on research-based living. But is it even possible to make decision solely based on science?

For two reasons, the answer is no. First, sooner or later in our lives we will discover that scientific predictions have their limits. In essence, making a decision is nothing more than the wish to create our future in a certain way. However, it presupposes our ability to calculate what will happen if we make a decision: if I do A, B will happen.

Even though we are able to do exactly that when it comes to much of the material world – for example, we can predict the movement of planets or electrons – much of our world is still too complicated to be predictable. A good example from our everyday lives is the weather – there is no way to predict it precisely for more than a few days. The same goes for human health and the society – there are not very many sure-fire predictions we can make, research will only offer probable results with a dose of uncertainty.

Secondly, basing all predictions on science is impossible, because for many decisions, there is no objective “right-wrong” scale. Alternate choices have their pros and cons, and our own values and attitudes determine which one to prefer. The best example here is politics – every party is trying to promote their best vision of the society, and there is no scientific way to say which are right and which are not. Questions regarding child support and luxury taxes can only be answered based on our values.

This does not mean we should stop looking for science-based decisions. We just need to feel the limits of where research stops and values start to dominate. Regarding today’s governance in Estonia, experts and scientists should definitely be used even more. The main hurdles here are cautious stances on both sides, comfort zones, as well as mutual communication skills.

For a long time, the problem has been the relative seclusion of the research world. Thus, the masses did not have access to the latest discoveries. Now, in the days of open access, there are many steps taken toward spreading the research and results – research communication, special open access research magazines, public databases for research data, etc.

There is no doubt all this data will help us in making decisions, but only if we need it and know how to translate it. However, in research – or in fact anywhere – there is no unified “truth” that would be useful to making every decision ever.


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