Social progress needs community, not just science

e974c19d-8b4f-40c0-be3f-2ca776c394ebChanda Prescod-Weinstein writes:

Science is touted so frequently as a synonym for “progress” that I sometimes wonder when the Oxford English Dictionary will take the step of formalizing this mythological relationship. Science, so it goes, makes for not just better thinking, but for tangibly better living. Got a problem? Solve it with science. And indeed, there is much to be proud of. Thanks to vaccines, for example, smallpox no longer regularly kills American children, and while we continue to struggle with the flu, there hasn’t been a major pandemic in a century.

In this context, it’s not surprising that “science” is also being brought to bear on what is often called “urban blight”—perpetually underserved communities made out of a nonlinear combination of racism and neoliberal economic policy. Wired reported last week that a Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University astronomer—a member of my professional community—is working with the city of Baltimore to create maps of so-called housing vacancies.

If astronomers at Johns Hopkins and its Space Telescope Science Institute are committed to improving the community around them, they would be better off working with grassroots community organizations also working to do this. There are plenty of people—scientists included—working to ensure the progress we make is ethical. They seek to do this by prioritizing community-controlled, permanently affordable housing as part of comprehensive community development—without the displacement that comes with rising rents and the unattainably high property values that normally follow.

Read the full article in Slate

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