In my regular browsing of the Biology topic on AppleNews, I stumbled upon an attention-grabbing headline in BBC Science Focus Magazine — the kind that makes you wonder if you’re about to delve into clickbait silliness.
Initially, the article navigates the familiar terrain of speculating how human evolution might unfold should we venture into space. It’s an intriguing notion, albeit based on the somewhat obvious idea that we won’t survive unless we recreate an Earth-like environment (duh!). But then the piece takes a rather bizarre turn, straying into a realm where human biological evolution intersects with speculative notions about societal shifts:
“Surrounded by danger and acutely dependent on technology, we might develop much more authoritarian societies where each person must perform their allocated role without question and be ready to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the species. This would be too important to leave to the unpredictability of democratic, free-market capitalism, so perhaps a rigid hierarchy, akin to the regimes aboard 19th century sailing ships would emerge.”
Now, that’s quite the vision. Count me out of that particular interstellar voyage. Yet, sadly aspects of this scenario are unfolding right here on Earth as current events indicate.
Inspiring kids through science
This week, I had the incredible experience of participating in the Accessible Science Event organized by our Norwich Biosciences Institutes. This event not only engaged our staff, both from science and non-science backgrounds, but it was also broadcast live to over a dozen schools. Moreover, the Norwich College T-Level students joined us in person, making it truly inspiring. A heartfelt thank you to my outstanding colleagues who orchestrated this event.
The event is made even more poignant by current events. It’s profoundly shocking that not so far from here, hundreds of children have lost their lives in the tragic events unfolding in the Middle East. Our hearts ache for these innocent lives needlessly lost.
Cultural change is a (long) journey
Cultural change is a long journey. It happens one step at a time. Progress may unfold slowly, but as long as each of us plays a part, progress becomes inevitable. This week, I found myself in a bout of banter with my colleagues shouting from my amphitheater seat as they read out journal names during an award ceremony.
When will our academic community mature and evolve? Isn’t it reasonable to expect that we hear about the discoveries made by our brilliant scientists rather than the titles of the journals they have published in? Moreover, it’s worth noting that our Institutes have committed to the principles of DORA, The Declaration on Research Assessment, signaling our collective stance against using journals as proxies for scientific quality and excellence.
You can label me as a ‘jerk’ if you wish, but as long as some of my colleagues don’t fully embrace the principles of DORA and the newly formed European version CoARA (Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment), I’ll continue to voice my concerns with a hiss and heckle.
Your duty is to watch Wajib
Tonight, I rewatched Wajib (Arabic: واجب Wājib, “Duty”), a satirical movie by the talented Palestinian filmmaker and author Annemarie Jacir. I encourage you to watch it as well and to recognize that, regardless of the circumstances, everyone still wakes up each morning and carries on with their daily lives (at least until their lives are shattered by terrorism or their city is devastated by bombs).
‘Wajib’ is surprisingly more lighthearted than one might anticipate because, as the film illustrates, life must persist despite the tragic context of father-son relations and local politics. As Nigel Andrews wrote for the Financial Times:
“Someone gets bitten by a parrot. Someone else breaks a momentous taboo. All human life is here. All inhuman life too; if we count, and Jacir does, a society that can generously cater to every human union except one between its principal races.”
The term ‘Wajib’ translates to ‘duty.’ Our duty is to rise above the turmoil and embrace human rights and dignity. Neglecting this duty lies at the core of all our problems.
I have a dream
A number of friends and colleagues, each with their unique perspectives, have wondered why I haven’t publicly commented on the recent tragic events in the Middle East. Truth be told, I’ve been grappling with how to broach this incredibly sensitive topic without inadvertently stoking more anger and hatred. After much contemplation, these words represent my attempt to address these tragic events.
First and foremost, my heartfelt condolences and sympathy go out to all those who have endured the horrors of this tragedy. There are far too many victims, spanning generations. It’s important to recognize that events didn’t have to unfold in this way, and it’s almost impossible to fathom the emotional toll it takes on those directly affected.
I firmly reject and condemn any loss of life, especially when it involves innocent civilians who had no say in chosing where they were born. Additionally, I cannot condone any overtly racist or prejudiced remarks, which become even more unsettling when they emanate from those in positions of power. The horror we witness is undeniably real, and it stems from the actions of extremists on all sides. However, it’s crucial not to lose sight of our shared humanity and refrain from dehumanizing entire groups of people.
Our unwavering obligation — our ‘wajib’ — is to transcend these divides and recommit ourselves to upholding the fundamental values of human rights and dignity. That’s my dream.
I’m grateful friends and colleagues for prompting some of these pieces. This post was written with assistance from ChatGPT.