More About COPUS

The Rationale for COPUS

Disturbing trends in science education, low public scientific literacy, and increasing alarms about U.S. scientific and technical competitiveness have all been prominent national news topics in recent years. (1) A recent National Science Board poll indicated that two-thirds of Americans do not understand what science is, how it is conducted, and what one can expect from it. (2) A recent Gallup poll reports widespread and increasingly prevalent belief in pseudoscience. (3) There is a growing public complacency about and disengagement from science at the very moment when the impact of science on public life is greater than ever. (4) The Business Roundtable of major U.S. companies notes that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations' infrastructures are gathering strength.

For many of the problems facing contemporary societies, such as impacts of climate change, coastal degradation, reductions of fisheries stocks, volcanic and earthquake hazards, quality and availability of water, exploitation of hydrocarbon resources, development of alternative energy sources, disease and pandemics, and national security, formulation of wise public policy depends on evaluation of the state of scientific research in the relevant areas. In a democratic society, public input to policy decisions on key issues affecting our welfare requires a public that understands the scientific research process, values the contribution of science to society, and has a working knowledge of what science can and cannot yet say about specific issues.

Yet many Americans are confused about science, its methods and findings. Because too few of our citizens grasp that science is a process through which we gain a reliable understanding of the physical world and is not merely a set of "facts" or collection of technologies, the public becomes vulnerable to misinformation and the very real benefits of science become obscured. Given the pivotal role of a vibrant scientific enterprise in ensuring our national competitiveness and a livable and successful society, it is essential that we rekindle the American public's interest in and support for science that was so prevalent in earlier decades and that laid the groundwork for the many fruits of scientific research, educational advances, and technical accomplishments that we enjoy today.

The Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science seeks to be an effective agent for connecting and focusing the effort of the many organizations and individuals working to improve the American public's engagement with science and the quality of science education being delivered in the Nation's schools. Essential to COPUS is the premise that public understanding of science and the scientific process and an awareness of the impacts of scientific advancements on our quality of life are necessary to increase interest in science as a career and for the Nation to continue to support the scientific enterprise. The American public is a diverse entity; to re-engage the public in science will require a concerted, collaborative, and multi-faceted set of programs and strategies taking place at local, regional, and national levels.

COPUS will (1) develop a network among all interested stakeholders, including the scientific, education, policy, media, and business communities and the general public; (2) create forums for sharing ideas, best practices, and resources; (3) provide documents and materials aimed at multiple audiences that effectively frame the message about the nature of the science process and its value to society; and (4) sponsor, encourage, and broker events that showcase science and convey the coalition's common messages. Through its programs, the COPUS network seeks to achieve its vision: Americans will be empowered to appreciate the pragmatic outcomes of science, to distinguish science from non-science, and to participate in social discourse that provides insight into the nature of science.