What is democracy? It obviously doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. For some, democracy is the right to vote, for others the right to freedom of choice, freedom of speech, the right to freely practice religion or atheism, for some it is a system of governance in which all power is not in the hands of one person such as a king or an autocratic president.

Democracy is all of this, without further ado, but not only that. Democracy should be an effort to make the world better. From behavior at the table, behavior towards your partner, children, animals, investment in knowledge, art, education and upbringing. Education is democracy. A personal culture that tells us not to throw garbage on the streets, meadows, forests, rivers and seas is also democracy, let’s be honest.

Democracy is when you have some power – whether it was power because you are in a leadership position, you are a politician or you are a popular person, you have money – that you represent a certain group that may not have its own voice, and that with dignity and integrity, that you do not use your voice as a megaphone for hatred, misinformation, but to teach and to know the difference between misinformation and information, but also to know what hate speech and incitement to hatred are.

In short, democracy is enlightenment, too.

American philosopher John Dewey wrote the book “Democracy and Education” in 1916. He claims here that education and learning are social processes, which cannot be denied, but also that schools (that is, educational institutions in general, including faculties, universities and scientific institutes) are places where social changes should take place.

“Dewey believed that democracy is an ethical ideal, not just a political arrangement. Second, he considered participation, not representation , to be the essence of democracy. Third, he insisted on harmony between democracy and the scientific method: ever-expanding and self-critical research communities, operating on pragmatic principles and constantly revising their beliefs in the light of new evidence, provided Dewey with a model for democratic decision-making. Finally, Dewey called for the expansion of democracy, conceived as an ethical project, from politics to industry and society”, wrote Robert Westbrook [ 1] in “John Dewey and American Democracy“.

The attack on the Capitol and all the social upheavals that came after it, but also the events before it, including the events of the pandemic, renewed calls for higher education to prioritize civic learning and democratic engagement, preparing every student for constructive participation in public life. It is too often assumed that teachers of history, political science, philosophy and communication have primary responsibility for encouraging democratic and civic engagement, and STEM education and practice are positioned as apolitical or detached from current events, which is not true.

Greater involvement in public life and scientists is needed, and this does not mean only joining a party, “doing” politics as a job or being appointed to the position of a politician’s advisor. Some scientists remain “apolitical” and claim that they “just want to do science” and that their work has nothing to do with politics.

Others believe that the only way of social involvement in political life is political engagement, forgetting the role of intellectuals as a potential voice of those who do not have a voice – through means of public opinion – traditional media and social networks. And there are self-censored Intellectuals, who are afraid to speak up, especially in countries with lower levels o democracy and human rights.

In such a climate, there are practically no “free intellectuals” or freedom of speech – and it is clear that most people would rather have existential security than “wave” and be unemployed (or never find a job because you are undesirable).

With Kurt Vonnegut, we have situation in his novel Hocus Pocus, when the main character loses his job at an educational institution for expressing inappropriate views and quoting others who have inappropriate views.

In contrast to self-censored intellectuals, there are intellectuals who speak in order to gain popularity. They, playing with freedom of speech, and often actually just reflecting the opinion of a certain group, use followers on social networks as a currency of their social position, i.e. “capital of social networks”.

Scientific consensus, as an agreement of the scientific community about something, is a process in which conclusions and the best possible solutions to problems and explanations are not found in a mere debate between members of the “for” and “against” clans, as is too often presented, and especially not in pro- and-against debates between scientists and laymen. Consensus in the scientific community is obtained on the battlefield of scientific papers, conferences and symposia, where evidence is presented, where peer-reviews of that evidence are conducted.

However, the space of scientific consensus is closed to laymen, which is good, but at the same time it turns the majority of the scientific community towards itself, inwards and closes it (simply because it is easier for scientists), instead of communicating their work to the public, as much as possible, let’s say that they influence to update textbooks, which often lag behind scientific discoveries by several decades, at least in our country.

The purpose of science, or scientists, is not to be self-sufficient, closed, but it is also not to enter into debates with laymen. When the American vaccinologist from Texas, Dr. Peter Hotez refused podcaster Joe Rogan’s challenges to debate vaccines with anti-vaxxers (on the principle of “Hic Rhodus, hic salta” [2]), it was perceived by the public as “cowardice“. Hotez’s battlefield is his laboratory and the academic public for discussions. But at the same time, Hotez is a scientist who is extremely active on social networks and in the public in general, where he constantly tries to explain the science of vaccines and provide a debunk (evidence against) some misinformation. Being a guest on a podcast would certainly not make him a hero and a winner, but he would certainly expose himself to well-prepared humiliation because no scientist can pull evidence out of his pocket as quickly as someone who wants to spread misinformation can do it.

The participation of scientists in communicating their own science and teaching-education audience, as people who encourage critical thinking, and the participation of scientists as decision-makers, advisors in decision-making and legislation fits well with Dewy’s thoughts on the importance of education and science for democracy. Public discussions with those who openly show anti-scientific views under the guise of the right to free speech and criticism, however, consume a significant amount of energy and, unfortunately, it is difficult to get out of them with dignity and without traces of mud.

Scientists must therefore find a middle ground – when and how much to communicate science and act in an enlightening manner, when and with whom not to get involved in discussions, and how much to simplify or complicate matters.



[1] Westbrook, Robert B. (1992). “John Dewey and American Democracy“. The American Historical Review. 97 (3): 919–20.

[2] Here is Rhodes, show here – Meaning: Show here (on the spot) what you know and can do. These words originally come from Aesop’s fable “The Braggart”. In that fable, a pentathlete constantly bragged about his excellent results achieved in the long jump competition on the Greek island of Rhodes. When those listening to him had had enough of his bragging, they asked him to show them what he could do.




Jelena Kalinić, MA in comparative literature and graduate biologist, science journalist and science communicator, has a WHO infodemic manager certificate and Health metrics Study design & Evidence based medicine training. Winner of the 2020 EurekaAlert (AAAS) Fellowship for Science Journalists. Short-runner, second place in the selection for European Science journalist of the year for 2022.