Why Greece didn’t march for Science?


It was a great movement on Earth Day! Thousands of scientists, academics and citizens, around the world from New Zealand to North Korea and from US to Australia joined the global March for Science sending their messages against the rise of a “post-truth” era and its threat to the academic world. People involved in the March for Science on Saturday the 22th of April were also concerned about attempts by governments to reduce funding to large areas of scientific research. But Greece didn’t join the global Earth Day protest. And here is the paradox. In the land where science was born people didn’t go for it!

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Monastiriki Athens

Most of the Greeks involved with science provide ignorance as the main argument for this absence, while others provide the danger of giving the impression that this is yet another field of political rivalry, while the issues are much wider. Their arguments degenerate if they align science with some political party position. Some of them still believe and support that science and policy are two different key aspects of our society, while others as the postdoctoral researcher Christos Frantzidis[1] insist that it is a fundamental duty of scientists to go outside their labs and to help the audience to form a concrete opinion about issues that greatly influence the humanity like the climate change, energy use and transparency of funding. “The public opinion needs the scientists to form the agenda and elicit vivid discussion of these issues trying to avoid any speculations or conclusions based only on rumours and not pure evidence. The scientists should dare to be at the first line of such events without any fear of being stigmatised or negatively ranked in case of funding proposals. Science isolation and lack of democracy are aspects of “bad or easy to be manipulated science”.

It sounds strange but many Greeks didn’t have any information about the march. “I have not known anything about it, who they are, what they do, and what they want to achieve. The hectic rhythms of our times render us exclusively preoccupied with developments in our field of expertise, frequently missing the larger picture. There is no such a thing as a single debate in science but a fragmentation of science debates across tens of disciplines and hundreds of research fields and approaches”, says the political scientist Nikolaos Tzifakis[2], while in the question if he would ever joined such a protest gives the answer: “Yes, why not?”

“Scientists believe that their voice is not heard by politicians or society per se…”, says Panagiotis Bamidis[3] and he continues: “On one hand, politicians usually ignore the case of science and how the latter should engage them in proper decision making. So, scientists often feel “what’s the point in raising their voice”… On the other, the Hellenic society has a handful of major problems to face, live with and/or resolve, which are themselves more vital to the essence of everyday living than science. We have to try hard to convince them that their life is strong connected to science ”, he says adding that he would definitely take part in a March for Science in Greece. If it  ever happened.

The neuroscientist Christos Yapijakis[4], on the other hand, was fully aware of the global March for Science events as was sad to realize a couple of weeks ago that there was no such event organized in Greece. “Unfortunately, in Greek society there is no respect for science and evidence-based thinking due to prevailing religious and political ideologies, which are basically belief systems that rely on arguments instead of facts. For several decades, science fields like evolution biology or astronomy are under-taught in the existing education system leaving a major part of the population exposed to scientific illiteracy, medieval superstition, conspiracy theories, and know-it-all mentality. In addition, most scientists in Greece are dedicated to their personal careers and not to social issues and the enlightenment of the lay people. Overall, the Greek society fails to see science as the best empirical methodology towards understanding nature and solving existing problems. For example, one of the major prospects for solving the current economic crisis in Greece is innovation research. Science is not an endeavor for the few but the means for a people’s freedom of thought, prosperity and happiness in a modern democratic society”, he comments.

Science is sadly under attack globally claims one of the 20 scientists worldwide who are currently the most commonly cited, John P. A. Ioannidis[5] and he supports any initiative that reminds us that science is the best thing for humans (Homo sapiens). The Greek scientist, who is a former professor at the University of Ioannina  School of Medicine in Greece thinks that especially for Greece, it was mostly a matter of numbers. “When five marches took place in Spain, Greece (with one-fifth the population) would be expected to have had one, which is close to none. There are also so many marches and protests in Greece, many for irrelevant or insignificant reasons, that most Greeks currently have a legitimate allergy to these mobilizations and may not have seen such mobility favorably. The  long tradition of protests (unfortunately often marred with rioting and plundering) for anything in education and universities has degenerated the substantial force that this weapon of social expression could have. Most people in Greece largely ignore the power of science, and when they see scientists, they see predominantly bad scientists who have become politicians and they are negatively impressed by their ignorance, arrogance and nonsense – features that are totally unrelated to science”, he claims.

The main reservation of the Greek leading researcher Nektarios Tavernarakis[6] is that science has never been a top priority for Greece in the past several decades. The scientific community of Greece has thus traditionally remained a rather detached and even obscure part of affairs for national politics. “There is a prevalent mentality in the scientific community that scientists are just a small and relatively powerless minority that would be utterly ineffective, when it comes to applying pressure for policy changes and more substantial support for research”, claims the bioscientist and he continues: “A distinctive indicator of this bleak reality has been the record low percentage of the national budget invested in research, which has been floating around 0.5%. Paradoxically however the financial crisis of recent years has precipitated the long overdue realization among Greek politicians that investing in research and innovation can facilitate economic growth development. This has resulted in a noticeable increase of research support in recent years. However there is still a long road ahead before Science wins its proper place in Greece. All  the more reason to take part in events and protests such as the March for Science.”, he adds.

There is also a small group of Greeks who attributes the failure to make the movement to bad timing and luck of coordination. “It’s very simple. We could do that but no one took the initiative to organize the march. We hope next year we’ll participate”, says the science communicator Theo Anagnostopoulos who is also Co-founder/ director of the social enterprise SciCo (Science Communication). He believes that the dissemination of science in Greece is at a very good level and many people are involved with it.

[1] Postodoctoral Researcher, Laboratory of Medical Physics, Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

[2] Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of the Peloponnese, Greece

[3] Associate Professor of Medical  Education  Informatics of  Medical School at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

[4] Associate Professor of Neurogenetics in Medical School of National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

[5] Professor of Medicine, Health Research and Policy and Statistics at Stanford University, California USA

[6] Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, FORTH, Research Director at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, IMBB, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at the Medical School of the University of Crete, in Heraklion, Greece and a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council.

 

Vasiliki Michopoulou, Free lance science writer; Press and Communication Officer for the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Society; Board of the International Science Writers Association (ISWA).

Originally published News. ISWA, the newsletter of the International Science Writers Association.

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About March for Science

Here are texts proposed by the MforS participants during the preparation of the events across the different cities. It offers a way to our readers to get the pulse and for our writers to share their feeling. Positive energy is strongly required to make this March a success and to engage Science towards a better impact for the future of our societies.

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