Glyphs & Graphs is a writing experiment by Naveen Srivatsav - an attempt at hypertext wordplay, intentionally amorphous thought experiments non-committal to any specific genre or topic. Enjoy, and feel free to reach out via social media.

Science and Policy 101

A snap from Gardens by the Bay in Singapore - to me, it truly felt like a forest in a spaceship from the future.

A snap from Gardens by the Bay in Singapore - to me, it truly felt like a forest in a spaceship from the future.

Someone wiser than myself once said, "If I'm eating a mango now, it's because someone before me planted the tree. So I too must plant a mango tree, for those who come after me." In those two sentences, he captured an important idea, a message of sustainability and responsibility. That very message is at the heart of what I want to achieve.

Sustainability is an easy concept to understand. Try to meet your needs now, but make sure future generations will be able to meet their needs as well. But it's not always easy to quantify, let alone to put limits on the things we need and use. Solutions that sound good on paper may not necessarily work in real life. Take deforestation for example. It's easy to protest against deforestation to protect biodiversity and the environment, but what about the rapidly growing population in a developing nation that depends on that resource for firewood, furniture or even livelihood? It becomes increasingly hard to decide whose need is greater; and yet it's up to policy makers to implement sustainability in a way that makes sense. Here we look at what options are theoretically available (the science), and then decide which option is the most practical (the policy).

Responsibility is a slightly trickier concept, because it's hard to feel responsible for the things we take for granted. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we grow crops on... it may sound like a dramatic exaggeration to say we should feel responsible for these resources. However, assuming responsibility doesn't mean placing blame or pointing fingers. It's about feeling a sense of duty, and being accountable for how a resource is used. Again, it's up to policy makers to translate such an abstract yet essential idea into a form that makes sense in its implementation. We have to assess the possible consequences of our actions and processes (the science), in order to choose the best way forward (the policy).

There's another important idea that's perhaps missing in the original message: enhancement. It is our duty to make things better than the way they were when we found them. I see heroes in people like Norman Borlaug for this very reason. A Nobel laureate, he helped prevent a worldwide famine during a critical decade. He took failing crops and he made them more productive and disease-resistant. But really, he didn't just save his generation, but every generation that came after as well. This was only possible thanks to science and technology. It was successful because of sound policy.

Sustainability, responsibility and enhancement. Simple words with great implications. They can come across ultimately as Atlasean burdens, but I believe the Prometheus on our side is technology. With technology, we can overcome any challenge. It's what we do, we fix things. In the last three centuries alone, the radical explosion of inventions and innovations has changed our lives and our lifestyles completely. What's more impressive to me is that this influx of technology happened largely independent of government involvement. As a society, we've so far looked to lone brilliant inventors to occasionally gift us with new technologies. However, I think this is changing.

I see the potential for a future where advancement of technology isn't just an event of providence but rather resembles a train always on schedule. A new age where technology is available to everyone who needs it. Imagine the possibilities if governments conduct pilots and adopt technology as a way to bring about change, the same way they use taxes and policies. Progress and development will only become exponentially faster.

This all falls under a specific area of policy-making that tries to integrate good science and good technology into good governance. This is what I want to do. Because I love humanity, and mangoes.

The future of conflict resolution

DIYBio - a look at citizen scientists hacking genetic engineering in their garages