Difficult times – or what’s the Ivory Embassy and why?
We live in difficult times, my friends. Our society seems to have taken a collective dive into the unknown. We are ruled by prejudice and divisive leaders, experts are decried and white nationalists are grazing freely on our once so welcoming meadows. People decided to talk louder and listen less. Minds and opinions are bend and swayed and beaten into shape with lies and alternative facts.
We are faced with some of the greatest challenges of all time and here we are, floating along in our filter bubbles, comfortable and ignorant. Convinced that we are neither ignorant, nor comfortable, that we are not floating along but steering ourselves. We vote into power people of questionable moral convictions to lead the way, to help us ease our perceived discomfort. They promised, didn’t they? We don’t trust the FAKE news media anymore, cause we ain’t stupid. We have something better. We have the combined swarm knowledge of our peers and peers of peers, the constant outcry that reverberates in our social media echo chambers, amplifies, that ruptures our eardrums. We know the truth. Our primal communal scream that finally lays testimony to what we knew to be true all along, that whoever shouts the loudest is right after all. And if I and all my algorithmic twins roar together it is deafening.
But volume doesn’t really matter, does it? Our chambers are well insulated. There is one right next to mine where they shout the opposite of what I know to be true. They too shout loud and clear, they too know it to be true. We can’t hear each other though, the walls are too thick, built from our own convictions and prejudice. A scaffolding woven from our own personality, the wool spun by the ever present and ever sinister algorithms. To break through it, to listen to the other side, I’d have to look through myself. A scary prospect, a journey that might teach me things I’d rather not know. But underneath, covered by all the noise, shouldn’t there be one truth?
I spare you the rest of my dystopian vision of our online age as I notice I am getting carried away a little. After all I was about to explain about the ‘Ivory Embassy’ and our motivation to start it. I do believe, at the risk of offending a few philosophers, that there is an underlying truth. I also believe we can’t ever understand it entirely. Einstein tried and failed. We can come up with theories though and test them. We can use the scientific method to try and make sense of the world around us as best as we can and share it, make it a common knowledge base, our societies truths’.
But next to these truths’ there stand actual falsehoods, misleading studies based on bogus ‘science’ and outright lies that need to be identified before they enter the fiberglass blood vessels of our society. Before they travel around the globe and enter into our common consciousness as facts. Not a single person can do all that, not even thousands of people. It needs to be a societal effort and it demands an educated society and that’s where we want to play our part. We don’t want to tell you what’s right or wrong, we want to provide you with the necessary background so you can make up your own mind.
The ‘Ivory Embassy’ is our attempt at poking holes into echo chambers, at least into the one we are qualified to poke holes in, the Science echo chamber. It is a massive one, believe me. One might argue it is the mother of all echo chambers. Thousands of tiny echo chambers in fact, from the outside it might seem that any one scientist believes himself first – and himself second. In reality there is quite some dialogue going on in the scientific community, theories are constantly questioned and rewritten, opinions revised. The outside world however does not really hear much about that, science seems far away, disconnected, stuck in the proverbial ivory tower. If it is communicated to the outside world it is often still cloaked in the constructed and technical language of science, awkward to understand even for the initiated. We want to be the embassy to the ivory tower, a forum to communicate and ‘translate’ science. We want to promote stories about cutting edge science and provide you with enough background information so you can have an informed opinion. And hopefully you carry that opinion with you, build on it, so the next time someone tries to tell you that quinoa cures cancer you can with conviction say: ‘Oh, shut up already’
But, you might wonder, why should you listen to us? Why don’t we just shut up? No reason really other than that, as final year grad students in biochemistry and genetics, we are trained to understand science and we hope we are good at translating it. We base whatever we write on scientific facts and only throw in that little bit of opinionated scorn when we really can’t help ourselves. Also, we hope you will enjoy what you read here and leave the embassy entertained and enlightened. So there you have it, the Ivory Embassy, run by two grad students to educate the world. Call it hubris, call it delusional. We, for once, are just curious to see what will come of it.
Incidentally, and to make cliches complete, I myself take pride in not only being a grad student but also a failed poet. My very first six word story, which carries the cunning title Democracy, I submitted to Narrative Magazine about half a year ago and sure enough it got rejected:
‘Filter bubbles, collision course, demand needles.’