Research, Kindness and Global Citizenship

As researchers, we don’t often think about cruelty and kindness as words that apply to research, except perhaps where animal research is concerned. Cruelty is the trademark of oppressive regimes, whilst kindness is usually represented by small acts, a coin in the street, a hug, a cup of tea. But cruelty is a continuum, as is kindness.

Both cruelty and kindness can be individual or institutional acts. Universities can be cruel in the demands placed on students and on staff. Research can be kind to its participants, or demanding, cruelly inconsiderate in standardising their thoughts or asking inappropriate questions.

Much of the cruelty involved in research arises from the idea that scientific detachment is essential to its robust conduct. Emotion, passion and a committed standpoint are not, supposedly, characteristics of science and the scientific method. This is a misunderstanding. Science and research only arise from passion.

Francis Bacon, one of the earliest proponents of the scientific method, has often been accused of inspiring the detachment necessary to exploit nature in the ruthless advance of modernity. I think this is a misinterpretation. Bacon’s work on the scientific method was an act of kindness in a cruel world, a step on the long climb out of chaos. And now we are in danger of slipping back into a world without kindness. Don’t let this happen! Keep kindness at the centre of your work, at the centre of your research. Cruelty is not sustainable. Let us envision a world where kindness is a fundamental principle of global citizenship. 

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