How to Save the World Even if You’re Not a Scientist

March 22, 2016

Do you know which animal is the biggest killer of humans? The lowly mosquito. This blood sucking predator is responsible for the deaths of approx. 725,000 people annually. Humans takes second place in killing other humans at 475,000. Snakes come in a distant third at 50,000.

But let’s look on the bright side. between 1990 and 2015, the global under-five death rate, the malaria death rate, and the number of people living in extreme poverty all fell by half. The Guardian ran a piece this week, highlighting that these successes are due largely to the work of State agencies and philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which invests more than 350 million dollars each year in global health research.

But how do organizations and governments decide where to give its money? They often look to the scientific data. As the Gates Foundation states, “Our Global Health Division aims to harness advances in science and technology to save lives in developing countries. According to some estimates, only 10 percent of all medical research is devoted to conditions that account for 90 percent of the global disease burden. Moreover, due to limited support for research that addresses some of the most neglected diseases and populations, the world’s best scientists are not sufficiently engaged.”

From AIDS to Zika, the solution to our problems are informed by research. Government agencies set policy often based upon scientific results. Public health programs are driven by the accumulation of data and the completion of large-scale randomized controlled trials. We have science to thank for telling us it’s ok again to eat butter. Yay!

But even if you don’t go to work each day looking for a cure for cancer doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. Think about doing the following:

Support Science Education – As we discussed here last week, children form their attitudes toward science from an early age.  We can bring to their attention how many of their own questions can be explored through scientific inquiry. Get involved with understanding what the school curriculum is teaching. Ask your child to share what experiments they’re learning and engage them in problem-solving activities.

Vote – Though it’s hard to believe, some of the world’s leaders still baulk at well-established scientific evidence, whether that’s denying global warming or claiming that eating fruits and vegetables can cure HIV. It’s our responsibility to vote with our heads. Consider a candidate’s views on issues that have a well-established consensus through published reproducible data. With a certain candidate in the US advising the world to forego ‘dangerous’ vaccines, this carries particular importance internationally.

Donate – Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to research all the issues important to you from a scientific angle, you can use your charitable giving to boost the work of people who do so for a living. Charity Science is just one group, based in Canada, that uses data-driven results to fund individuals and organizations using science to solve the world’s most pressing problems. For instance, did you know that deworming is the most cost effective way to increase school attendance in developing countries? And that education is one of the primary drivers of a country’s ability to develop and thrive? Charity Science knows, and at their site you can see how they go about choosing the projects that are most likely to succeed based on evidence.

So take the time to consider how you are engaged every day in choices and decisions that are informed by what science has shown us.