Trust science to ask the right questions

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DANIEL MCCARTHY, SENIOR EDITORAs has been noted recently on this page, evidence-based thinking and science could stand a little more advocacy these days. Hopefully, for most readers of this publication, the question is not why but how this advocacy should be exercised.

One simple step would be to join Nobel laureates, global educators, scientists, engineers, and many others by adding your name to the Trust Science pledge at Unlike many online petitions that request an email or other personal information, the pledge only requires your name and affiliation.

This alone makes it easy to sign. It only sweetens the deal further that the pledge was launched in conjunction with the International Day of Light, scheduled by UNESCO to be observed on May 16. The day aims to raise global awareness of the importance of the science and technology of light in areas such as communications, sustainable development, climate action, and health care.

If you are a regular reader of this publication, then the International Day of Light was created to highlight the work you and your colleagues do every day. There is no reason why you shouldn’t pledge your trust in the science on which it is based.

In an era of convenient answers and selective facts, science instead insists on using a methodology to determine the right questions. One might argue, for example, that science has failed to achieve a mass-produced autonomous vehicle despite decades of development. But the question that this argument presumes to answer is “How soon?” It’s the wrong question. We might have autonomous vehicles today, if people would be satisfied with them causing roughly 40,000 deaths each year, which is the current estimate assigned to human motorists.

The reason we can trust science is precisely because rather than asking “How soon?” it asks, “How safe?” As Greg Smolka of Insight LiDAR writes here, emerging advancements in lidar technology may soon help to achieve a degree of safety that would make autonomous vehicles a more common conveyance on our streets and highways.

Smolka’s article is only one of several that make our May issue a worthy emblem for the International Day of Light. This month, our editors and contributors take the pulse of ultrafast laser technology, survey a new crop of compact Raman instruments for food inspection, and explore the point at which extreme operating temperatures become a consideration in the design of an optical coating.

But before you dive in, take a moment to visit and add your name to show some pride in the Industry of Light. Represent, people.

Published: April 2021

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