From discovering the secrets of the atom to forging new gene editing technology, science has brought us closer to understanding the world around us — and each other. But despite the achievements of the past century, in recent decades that progress has slowed down, partially because of challenges like paywalled journals and slow-turnaround peer review. Without more rapid scientific progress, we risk being mired in stagnation.
“Science needs to step up,” writes researcher Saloni Dattani, who specializes in making science accessible and providing smart, digestible analyses on the world’s most important questions.
Seeking out hard data and putting assumptions to the test is how Dattani thinks, and much of her writing is focused on advocating for better data transparency. She’s a part-time researcher for Our World in Data — a UK-based nonprofit that publishes free, easy-to-understand statistics that give us a clearer picture of how things actually are, versus what we assume them to be.
At Our World in Data, she collects and fact-checks data on health-related topics, including Covid-19 and mental health. Our World in Data’s Covid dashboard, which she contributed to, was a key source of information for evaluating the effectiveness of lockdowns and other public health measures.
Dattani also has an impressive number of side projects for someone who is also working on a PhD in psychiatric genetics. In 2020 — as the world was awash in bad Covid forecasts — she praised the “superforecasters” who made testable predictions about the pandemic, and were often right. (Dattani herself correctly predicted that a vaccine would be available by the end of 2020, at a time when many experts were skeptical.)
That same year, Dattani also helped found Works in Progress, an online magazine that shares original ideas relevant to making progress on the world’s biggest challenges. As well as new science, Works in Progress covers economics, culture, and politics, hosting writers who can provide detailed and thoughtful deep dives into complex issues.
Her interests are widespread, but the throughline is clear, data-based reasoning. In 2019, she spoke on the podcast Rationally Speaking about the debate over gender differences in brains, and her recently launched Substack newsletter ranges from the evolution of lactose tolerance to potential vaccines against cancer. Dattani cares about highlighting new scientific research that may be relevant to readers’ lives, and demonstrating how to interpret its results. Instead of keeping her analysis and research behind a paywall (her Substack is free) or only talking to other academics, Dattani tries to reach people where they are: Twitter, podcasts, newsletters, publications, wherever.
Dattani’s skill at interpreting and explaining data was recognized this July, when she was recommended for a statistical commentary award from the Royal Statistical Society for her New Statesman article about Covid-19 vaccine messaging for pregnant women. She continues to provide clear and informative coverage on the latest health news, like monkeypox, and advocates for reform in science.
“My motivation for writing [the New Statesman] article was the same as the motivation I have for all my science writing today,” Dattani writes. “Here was an issue where the evidence was so abundantly clear, but the messaging had failed the public.”
Not every researcher is ahead of the curve all of the time, but Dattani’s approach to her work lends itself to making sure that prescient progress can move forward instead of being held back.