Concern is mounting about the state of science in America. Disturbing trends in science education, low public scientific literacy, and increasing alarms about U.S. competitiveness have all been prominent national news topics within the past year. In response to these concerns, we call for a national effort to document and share the vitally important role science plays in our lives and in the future of the United States.
Science’s benefits accrue at every level: to individuals; to states and regional economies; to the nation as a whole. Scientific understanding helps inform policy decisions in areas ranging from public health to the environment. Scientific research and its innovations and applications drive economic and technological growth and improve security. In public opinion polls, Americans may rate scientific research as “very important,” but the sad truth is that very few understand the institution of science well enough to appreciate the depth of their dependence upon it or to recognize and react to the threats currently faced by American science.
Research shows that many Americans are confused about science, its methods and findings. Because too few of our citizens grasp that science is a method of gaining reliable understanding of the physical world and is not merely a set of “facts,” the public becomes vulnerable to misinformation and the very real benefits of science become obscured.
Our goal is to characterize the enterprise of science as a vital national business, one with a myriad of products and services that flow into virtually every other sector of our economy. Our efforts include a campaign that will draw on the best public communications research and methodologies to explain the nature and value of science in positive language, with carefully targeted and tested messages, tailored to increase understanding and appreciation by all Americans. The overarching goal will be to empower Americans with a set of understandings that will allow them to appreciate the pragmatic outcomes of science, distinguish science from non-science, and participate in social discourse that depends upon insight into the nature of science.
Science may well stand in need of defense in America today. But we believe that the best defense is a positive, multi-faceted strategy to explain science’s extraordinary benefits to individuals and society. We know from recent American history that if Americans come to view science in terms of its inestimable value to society, they will wholeheartedly embrace it.
This statement was prepared by participants of an NSF-funded workshop to discuss the public understanding of science, held in Berkeley, California, January 2006. This is a consensus statement of the individuals involved and does not necessarily represent an official position of organizations with which they are affiliated.
Lee Allison, Director, Arizona Geological Survey
Roy Caldwell, Director of UC Museum of Paleontology
Tammy Dickinson, Geological Society of America Geology and Public Policy Committee
Judy Kass, Project Director, Public Understanding of Science, AAAS
David Lindberg, Chair, Dept of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
Chris Mooney, Washington correspondent, Seed Magazine
Richard O’Grady, Executive Director, American Institute of Biological Sciences
Judy Scotchmoor, Assistant Director, UCMP, Education and Public Programs
Richard Stucky, Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Kathy Sullivan, COSI Science Advisor
Susan Traiman, Business Roundtable
Marvalee Wake, Past President, American Institute of Biological Sciences