The role of Chemistry during the pandemic

Nov 12, 2020

Possible Chemistry answer to COVID-19 among Open Science, Big Data, old and new expertise and knowledge: the contribution of Chemistry

The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance is the virus.

This statement was made by Joshua Lederberg in 1958 on the occasion of his Nobel Lecture.

This claim cannot be forgotten in this period while we are looking for a reason of hope and this hope, after ensuring adequate sanitary services and responsible behaviour of citizens, can come only from Science.

Medical sciences represent undoubtedly the queen disciplines, but many other disciplines can play a very important role.

At this particular moment, the basic core of knowledge is provided by the group of biosciences such as medicine, virology, biology, biotechnology. It is fundamental to have an intradisciplinary group that speaks the same language at the start of any research activity.

After the working group started, it is absolutely necessary that the same group acquires interdisciplinary features because a scientific problem has to be regarded from different competences and cultures. This is the only approach to increase the likelihood of finding an acceptable and positive solution.

That said, it is clear that the solution must emerge from cultural and speculative differences. In other words, generally speaking, the successful team must be as heterogeneous as possible. Analyzing from a general point of view the various disciplines that participate in the study. Perhaps chemistry can guarantee a specific attitude in criticism, a forma mentis, with its epistemological characteristics that are highly dependent on conceptual, theoretical and experimental diversity. For these reasons, chemistry can support and act as a “glue” in the group of disciplines that have made up the fundamental historical group to combat Covid-19. But chemists can contribute to facing specific aspects of a pandemic, for instance, the correlation with pollution and particularly with the particulate matter as a vehicle of the virus in the air. More about it other than viruses it does not seem easily understood why real regulations about PM consider only the weight and the size of the particulate without any scientific interest toward its nature, to correlate to hygiene and safety limits.

Another important aspect of chemistry concerns scientific data, their meaning, but above all, how they are obtained and how they must be communicated.

Chemistry is a predominantly an inductive science, and then the scientific method is synonymous with an experimental method. For this reason, it is essential that communication and data sharing must proceed successfully, but this latter condition presupposes easy accessibility to magazines, journals and research results. This is why the chemical community has always defended “Open Science criteria”. But beyond the technical and scientific contributions that chemistry can provide, it is necessary to re-emphasize one of its unique characteristics that perhaps could act as a catalyst in the team’s work: chemistry works positively if and only if it can cultivate, by working alone or in a team, the concept of diversity and scientific doubt.

Luigi Campanella 
Senior Chair of the EuChemS Working Party on Ethics in Chemistry