Some experiments might take place in a vacuum, but science never does. The pursuit of knowledge only happens within the context of the wider world. Research is not driven by pure, idle curiosity. Social, political, and economic trends influence every area of our lives, including the questions we ask and the work we do to answer those questions.
That doesn’t mean scientists must bend to the will of the world. Often, the course of scientific research is shaped in opposition to a larger societal trend. But as we shape the world, the world also shapes us. Scientists must understand the forces affecting their profession if they wish to remain in the vanguard of progress. To ignore the tide is to be swept away.
Top Ten Trends Driving Science is an introduction to 10 of the biggest ideas affecting scientists today. The trends listed here and their order were determined via a survey of 17 editors of ACS Publications journals. The editors who completed the survey ranked their picks for the most important social, political and economic trends affecting research in 2016. Once their rankings were tallied, a clear consensus emerged. Their list of topics includes new wrinkles in enduring issues, such as the search for research funding and science’s place in society. But there are newer ideas too, such as globalization, open access, and other changes to scientific publishing in the 21st century. Each brings unique challenges, and maybe even opportunities for researchers who know where to look for them.
As you read through this report, you’ll notice many of these trends are closely linked. It’s hard to talk about how science is communicated to the public without mentioning climate change. Discussions about the future of scientific publishing are inextricably tied to topics such as open access, collaboration, and globalization. In many ways, the themes mentioned here are different aspects of a single master trend: Scientists adapting to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Of course, a list like this can never truly be definitive. Depending on your field of study, your career path, or your location, other concerns might seem more pressing to you. We invite you to share your alternative takes on the most important trends in science with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and in the comments below. We can’t wait to hear what you have to say.