Saturday, November 9, 2013

Does our research have an impact?

As news filters through, reporting the death and devastation wreaked on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, I pause to consider whether we are doing all that we can through our research to prevent events such as this from occurring? Are we really conducting studies with potential for impact in the field? 

Human tragedy unfolds around the world for the victims of disaster on a daily basis. We do not even hear about the majority of events occurring, but they do occur nonetheless. Disasters are affecting more and more people, through a combination of a) the accelerating frequency of hazards threatening human populations and b) growing global inequality, conflict and urbanisation leading to heightened conditions of vulnerability. 

As Typhoon Haiyan sadly demonstrates, we cannot prevent hazards of brutal force from coming into contact with human populations. What we can do is determine the conditions of the people affected. As long as we allow an elite group of individuals to control the global economy and corporations to set government agendas, it is difficult to see the majority of people desperately exposed to hazards ever improving their conditions. 

Greed and an attitude of entitlement. Such characteristics, present among those with power to change high level systems, indirectly cause immeasurable suffering, trapping billions in a vulnerable state. The endless capitalist quest for new markets to exploit and resources to plunder leaves us little room to develop solutions to the underlying issues of vulnerability. 

For this reason I believe that science must grow more vocal in its criticism of systemic abuses and inequalities. Our research must be undertaken with this context to the fore, not ignorant of it. 

For some researchers and academics, offering an argument on such issues will be well outside of familiar intellectual territory. However, I would suggest that no matter how many new tools we provide for storm prediction; no matter how many management frameworks we develop for efficient response and recovery; no matter how well we build community capacity, capital and resilience; the cycle of vulnerability will be perpetuated indefinitely if we ignore the root causes. 

Therefore be bold, deviant and passionate as you advocate for the vulnerable and build evidence to bring about change. 

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