by Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association 


“What’s wrong with scientists?”

That’s what my mum said to me in a WhatsApp at 5am yesterday. She’s a retired history & politics teacher, she has no need to be up at 5am. Maybe this is evidence that the lockdown is getting to us all.

I think she has a point, though. She went on to say, “the attitude of those making announcements about what has to be done with no acknowledgment of the impact on mental health, fear of going to see any doctor, huge rise in domestic violence and poverty…[scientists talk about] just statistics and self-congratulation that they have got the right tactic”.

Maybe this is how the scientific advisors come across to wider parts of society? My mother has what we at the BSA call an 'inactive' relationship with science; she has nothing against science, but she doesn’t see the need to pay it any attention.

We regularly see scientists talking on the news about their predictions – they are trying to be transparent but they can seem tone deaf to the concerns so many people are facing. Getting the right balance between transparency and tone-deafness, for different audiences in different contexts, is something our society needs to learn – and it is one of the reasons that our work at the British Science Association is so critical and timely.

But as I reflect on my mum’s message, with its 5am timestamp, I also think: this is hard.

We are all working, thinking, trying to see the big picture – all while balancing our day-to-day responsibilities to our families, friends and communities. None of us can excel at all these roles all day, every day. And that’s okay.

We’re good enough, as we are, to make a difference. We all are.