January 26-27, 2006
University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley
Growing concerns about the state of science in the United States have garnered national attention of key sectors of society business, research, and education. Business is concerned about competitiveness in a global economy and increasing the supply of ideas and workers. The education community is challenged to ensure student interest in pursuing science as a career and to provide adequately trained and motivated teachers who will educate the next generation of scientists. The research community is short of resources to maintain the flow of discoveries and trained workers to industry. Cross-cutting this is an assault on the fundamental nature and role of science in society by various groups with anti-science agendas. While America is turning away from participation in and support of science, other nations are increasing their investments in science and reaping the benefits (COSEPUP, 2006).
Each segment of the nation's scientific enterprise is focusing on its individual set of problems and challenges, but only recently have there been discussions as to a broader effort to address these concerns. The intent of this workshop was to bring together a small, but diverse group of interested people to discuss how the scientific community should respond to this growing crisis and to develop a set of recommendations on how to proceed with creating a sustained national effort that will ultimately result in a greater public understanding of science.
The workshop was held January 26-27, 2006, hosted by the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP), Berkeley, and convened by Lee Allison, Chair, Kansas Energy Council, Office of the Governor and the Kansas Geological Survey and Judy Scotchmoor, Assistant Director, UCMP.
Essential to the discussion was that public appreciation of science, the scientific process, and the impacts of scientific advancements on our quality of life is necessary for continued support of the national scientific enterprise. Participants focused on the need to re-engage the public in science, recognizing that the public sector is a diverse entity that cannot be characterized by a single set of descriptors and therefore cannot be positively engaged through a single effort or activity. Participants agreed that to re-engage the public in science could best be achieved through a coordinated national campaign or set of programs that would, in the short term, celebrate science, and in the long term increase public engagement in and understanding of science. Toward this end, participants developed a consensus statement of purpose within which they expressed the need for a "positive, multi-faceted strategy to explain science's extraordinary benefits to individuals and to society." This would include a campaign that draws on "the best public communications research and methodologies to explain the nature and value of science in positive language," and "carefully targeted and tested messages, tailored to increasing 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."
Participants recognized that because the initial workshop was kept deliberately small to facilitate robust discussion, other stakeholders were missing from the initial conversations. Participants concluded that it would be necessary to convene a second workshop to include expertise and perspectives from four key stakeholders: decision and policy makers, non-governmental organizations, science communicators, and business and industry. Plans are underway for a follow-on workshop to be held June 14-16, 2006 in Washington DC, to engage a broader audience of scientific disciplines, policy leaders, science communicators, and decision-makers to determine the next steps to better engage the public in understanding, appreciating, and supporting science.