Cross-posted from Making Sense of Science.
If there’s one area in which I believe science can and ought to improve, it would be the communication of science to the public at large. Granted, this is no easy task, especially in an environment in which many scientists feel gagged, unable to speak out publicly for fear of losing funding or their job. And the media, increasingly reliant on clickbait and ad views to remain viable, is far from a reliable spokesperson for the scientific community at this point in time.
However, public and political antagonism towards science is part and parcel of the discipline. Changing the public’s assumptions, or to use a trendy term, “nudging” people towards changing their behaviour, is a challenge that I believe the field of science needs to continue engaging in. And one area in which science could and should strive to be more vocal is the area of privacy and security.
You’ve probably heard about the egregious actions of government organisations such as the NSA in the US and GCSB in New Zealand, who, among other things, conspired to deliberately weaken industry security measures in an effort to make it easier for them to intercept the public’s data and communications. By cracking encryption technology and covertly putting back doors into widely used software, such organisations not only violate civil liberties, but also put the public at risk of cyber attacks perpetrated by criminal organisations.
Such revelations have made me realise two things. For one, we need scientists—not just judicial bodies—to help oversee and hold to account the likes of the NSA and GCSB. We need cryptographers, mathematicians, computer scientists and social scientists—arm-in-arm with rights activists and legal experts—to make sure that the government is doing as it says.
As well as advocating for better standards at the government level, we also need scientists to lead to way in educating the public about how they can protect themselves when online (read: all the time). After all, we can hardly trust the government to do so.
From simple things such as recommending the use of a password manager to protect our online identities, to the more complex, such as helping lawyers and journalists protect their sensitive information from prying eyes, there is much that scientists can do to help. The question is how and through which channels.