Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, held its annual meeting
on 27 - 30 October 1988 at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Hotel in
Orlando, Florida. The focal event of the meeting was a two-day
international symposium, co-sponsored by the American Association for
the Advancement of Science (AAAS), entitled "Public Understanding
of Science and Technology". I served as a delegate to the
meeting, representing the Wilkes College Sigma Xi club. Overall, 327
delegates attended the meeting, representing Sigma Xi clubs
throughout North America. Additionally, several dozen other
scientists, journalists, educators, and business leaders from around
the world attended the symposium.
Clearly, the theme of the meeting was chosen as a result of recent, widespread concern expressed by scientists that the public is largely "scientifically illiterate". That concern became most evident in 1986, during Sigma Xi's "New Agenda for Science" project, and at the Society's centennial meeting held that year in Washington, D.C.
The meeting opened Thursday evening, 27 October, with a general assembly of Sigma Xi delegates. At that assembly, the delegates approved the agenda of the meeting, the Proceedings of the 1987 meeting, and reports made by the Society's officers and fifteen committees (a booklet containing those reports is available from me, on request). Additionally, the delegates were asked to consider two resolutions. The first was a request to have the Society's Committee on Membership develop a strategy to target social scientists for membership. The second was to develop a new grade of membership that would allow clubs and chapters to affiliate with educators of science and mathematics.
Following the general assembly, the delegates attended regional assemblies. I attended the Mid-Atlantic assembly, which included delegates from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. At that assembly, each delegate introduced himself/herself, and reviewed some of the activities undertaken by their club or chapter in the past year.
The symposium began Friday, 28 October with a plenary session that was co-chaired by Dr. Thomas Malone (President of Sigma Xi) and Dr. Walter Massey (President of AAAS). By way of introduction, those in attendance were asked to think about whether scientists should remain passive or become more activist when confronted with important, often political, issues. We were also reminded of a point made in the 1986 meeting that the number of potential scientists coming into the educational pipeline is likely to decline by 25% in the coming decade, due largely to demographic changes.
The keynote address was entitled "The View from the Scientific Community" by Sir John Porter of the Royal Society (London). Porter was unable to be present, however, and the address was given by Dr. Malone. Porter's paper began with an admission that historically, many scientists disdain the popularization of science because it often leads to a reduction in rigor. That view has changed recently, however.
In the past 200 years, science has changed the way that we live, but the public does not really understand much of science. He listed three reasons for the public to have a good knowledge of science: (1) science is part of our culture, (2) the needs of the job market require scientific knowledge, (3) people will be asked to make decisions on topics that require some scientific sophistication. Despite those compelling reasons, science is misunderstood and even feared by many non-scientists. There appears to be a large rift between scientists and non-scientists. At one time, scientists payed little attention to the ignorance and antipathy, but now there is concern among the scientific community that the public will impose constraints on those wishing to do science.
Hostility toward scientists can be traced to the 19th century, when scientific advancements threatened the job security of many. This century, there have been many undesirable side effects of science, including pollution and depletion of our natural resources. It is impossible to predict the side effects of a given scientific advance. The entire community must make a decision on how the knowledge is used. For that decision to be sound, the public must be informed by expert advice of scientists. Self-appointed "pseudo-experts" may do more harm than good. Still, scientists must tolerate effective simplifiers and popularizers of science. There are also limits on the degree to which scientists can and should interact with the public: some scientists are poor communicators, others are too busy.
The Royal Society of London formed a group to review the public understanding of science and prepared a report earlier in 1988. The group found that among the British there is great interest in science, but also great ignorance and mistrust. The Society now has formed a committee to promote greater public understanding of science.
Porter outlined several public constraints on science and its applications. Financial limitations are only half of the picture; ethical and social limitations comprise the other half. Scientists who fail publicize their efforts are susceptible to charges of a "cover-up" by those who are antagonistic toward science. Scientists must be concerned about public safety, and should not carry out experiments without consideration of the public outcome (e.g., experiments on genetically engineered organisms that are to be released into the environment and experiments on human fetal tissue). Fraud in science is also of concern to many, and politicians are beginning to ask whether criminal penalties should be assessed against those scientists who engage in fraud. In terms of the applications of science, the public is often concerned about "how far should scientists go?". For example, how far should we manipulate evolution by using transgenic crosses (where genetic material from one kind of organism is inserted into a taxonomically unrelated recipient)? A parallel could be made to the 1950's when scientists working with atomic power were compelled to warn the public of its dangers. Changes in the evolutionary process are more subtle and unpredictable than nuclear energy, though.
Porter concluded by asserting that science is advancing more rapidly than our ability to adapt. Although one might be tempted to seek a moratorium on the discovery of new knowledge, research should continue for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many environmental problems are the result of an insufficient knowledge base, as well as the promise that we can overcome hunger and disease with additional scientific expertise.
Porter's address was followed by a commentary, entitled "Reflections by a Science Communicator" by Mr. David Perlman, Science Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. He began by stating that the task of the journalist is to take complex scientific information and to put it into a form understandable to the readers. Journalists have a hard time finding experts willing to provide information, though. Moreover, the experts sometimes disagree such as in genetic engineering. Once a story is written, journalists must then fight with editors to get the information published intact.
Perlman emphasized that there is considerable fear of science held by the public. An example would be the development of "ice-minus" bacteria through genetic engineering and reported by the Chronicle since 1984. Sometimes those issues reach the ballot box, e.g., California Proposition 102 (brought by Lyndon LaRouche) mandating that the names of those who test positive for the AIDS antibody test be publicized. That, according to Perlman, indicates a failure by the media to properly inform the public, because people at risk will not test themselves or will have the test done in a different state.
Another widely reported and controversial scientific issue was the research and use of atomic energy. In the early 1950's Enrico Fermi said that the hydrogen bomb has undesirable effects and that research on its development should not proceed. Conversely, Edward Teller said that additional testing was needed to produce a "clean bomb". President Eisenhower stated that the public should not be held captive to the scientifically elite.
The reporting of cancer research is of interest to many, and reporting on developments in the field has often been bad. For example, the development interferon and interleuken II were widely hailed as cures to cancer in the press, but that was based on very limited experimental results. Over time, the effectiveness of the compounds did not match the initial promise. In another case, some newspapers reported that the Epstein-Barr virus was proven to cause cancer, based on research reported in The New England Journal of Medicine. The actual wording in the paper, however, was that the research suggested that the virus caused cancer. Thus, speculation turned to proof.
Science writers are at an advantage, according to Perlman, because they are assumed to be very knowledgable by their editors who give them "wide berth".
Some media organizations have developed "media resource services", which are listings of scientists who are willing to talk to the media in their respective areas of expertise. More newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations should look into the development of such listings, if they haven't done so already.
Politics also pose another problem to accurate reporting of science by the media. For example, President Reagan's science advisor Dr. George Keyworth took the media to task for reporting negatively on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). According to Keyworth, the press is biased, out of the mainstream, and out to destroy the establishment. However, whenever a problem does exist and the press overlooks it, the press is then accused of being too uncritical and naive.
Perlman concluded that the media's job is to report on the news. It cannot teach much detail in science. Science education is best left to teachers, but they are often underpaid. Above all, the media wants to tap the knowledge and expertise of scientists. Most journalists want to do a good job of informing the public. Scientists should not be an obstacle.
An international panel discussion followed Perlman's talk. Dr. J. Thomas Ratchford, Associate Executive Officer of AAAS, served as the chair. He noted in his introductory comments that better understanding of science is a worldwide concern.
Dr. Peter Pockley, of the University of New South Wales and Public Affairs Advisor for the Australian Academy of Science, spoke on "The View from Australia". He opened by commenting that scientists are often just marginally better educated about many areas of science and technology than the general public.
He then noted that Australia's economy is largely rural and is based on mining. Their sciences, especially biology and astronomy, are well developed, but public investment is quite low.
In Australia, the media's presentation of science is uneven. It is poorly presented in their newspapers and there is only one science magazine. In contrast, science receives good coverage in the broadcast media.
In the few surveys that have been done, Pockley noted a latent support for science among Australians, but that young children often perceive scientists in a negative light (scientists are "devious" or "secretive").
Pockley stressed that for science to be better understood by the general public, scientists must do more than issue occasional press releases. Scientists need to be good at telling stories that are interesting, relevant, and understandable by the public.
To promote better communication, an Australian Science and Technology Information Service has been developed. They reach the media, schools, and politicians. The Service has the financial support of the government and universities.
The second speaker of the panel was Dr. Kai Zhang, an inventor, who spoke on "The View from China".
He began by noting that China is a developing country and that people want to popularize technology to improve the country's productivity. There are many science periodicals as well as television and radio programs devoted to science. Demand for scientific information is growing, not only in the primitive rural areas, but also in urban areas where manufacturers seek to improve their products.
The Chinese are curious about science, but they demand to understand how scientific advances can be applied to improve the standard of living. Thus, an important duty for scientists is to explain, as well as explore.
The third panelist was Ms. Annagreta Dyring, from the Swedish Council for Planning and Coordination of Research. She spoke on "The View from Sweden".
According to Dyring, Sweden is largely rural, having a low population density and being distant from modern culture. Yet for Sweden's democracy to work, the citizens must be well educated.
Swedish scientists are public servants, thus paid by the government. By law, they are required to inform the public of their efforts. The mass media regularly carries scientific information.
In 1979, the Swedish Parliament initiated a program to improve public understanding of science. One activity was to produce a series of widely-distributed booklets, each covering a different topic (e.g., effects of radiation on wildlife, forest dieoff due to pollution, care of elderly), and each providing comments by scientists. Another set of activities was focused on the schools (e.g., having scientists visit schools and students visit research centers, developing science centers and science theaters, instituting a popular science week, and publishing books and films on science). The quality of those projects is kept very high, and their aim is to develop educated laymen with critical minds. The next generation of materials will attempt to get across the message that science is interesting and important, and will better address some of the onging controversies.
The last speaker on the panel was Senator Michael McCormick, who provided his insights as a scientist-turned-legislator. He began by noting that in America, films and literature often portray scientists as evil. The public thus gets an impression that society is at risk due to science and scientists.
Congressmen and other legislators are usually sincere, intelligent persons who typically lack training in science. Still, they must make decisions on matters that best require scientific expertise. Many of those decisions reflect the views of their constituents, many of whom also have little scientific sophistication.
McCormick listed a few experiences that were of note. First, he recalled the Three-Mile-Island incident in which there was contaminated water in a cooling tank that had to be disposed of. Scientists and legislators proposed to clean the water and return it to the Susquehanna River. Local residents protested the return of any of that water, even if it was perfectly clean. Second, during the oil embargo of the 1970's, one fellow legislator proposed taking carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, chemically converting it into carbon and oxygen, and then burning the carbon to get useful energy. According to the plan, that process would have the additional benefit of removing CO2 (which causes the greenhouse effect) from the atmosphere. (Unfortunately, the plan, as proposed, would not work because it would violate the second law of thermodynamics, and the burning of the carbon would simply reintroduce CO2 to the atmosphere).
Another problem relates to education of children. According to the President of the National Educaiton Association, many science teachers who are being hired are really unqualified. In other cases, those qualified to teach science are not hired because they are not qualified to coach sports.
McCormick also mentioned that few scientists, especially those at intitutions of higher education, get involved in partisan politics because such an activity would be looked down upon by the administrators. That limits the number of legislators who are also scientists.
McCormick concluded that scientists must speak out to overcome illiteracy, and suggested that all scientists should return to the classroom to teach, especially to classes of students who are not intending careers in science.
After a lunch break, a panel discussion on education was convened. Dr. Anna Harrison, Chair of Sigma Xi's Committee on Science, Mathematics and Engineering served as the moderator.
The first speaker on the panel was Ms. Sheila Grinell, a Science Museum Consultant, whose presentation was entitled "Science Centers Come of Age". Grinell began by defining a science center as "a museum without a collection". Instead, they stress a hands-on approach to getting science concepts across. There are 150 such centers in the United States, with a $500,000 annual budget. Fifty million people visit science centers annually. They get a chance to "pull levers, blow bubbles, and tinker with technical artifacts".
The role of the science centers is important, considering the fact that one-fourth of junior and senior high school teachers are teaching subjects in which they are unqualified (according to a survey conducted in 1986). All too often, the textbook is the primary resource, and students learn by memorizing abstract rules. Such students need to tinker in a way that would provide them an opportunity to build intuition.
Science centers employ young people to give demonstrations and discuss applications. Visitors typically spend about two hours at the center.
Grinell concluded that Sigma Xi members need to collaborate with science centers. It is difficult to make the agendas of scientists' and science centers match, though.
The second panelist was Dr. Shirley Malcom, Head of the AAAS Office of Opportunities in Science. Her talk was entitled "Reaching Out", and described the efforts of her office to interest people, particularly inner-city youths, who do not readily identify with science or scientists.
She noted that the proportion of incoming students who ultimately seek careers in science is quite small. Society constantly gives signals, especially to girls, that science is overly difficuly and not relevant. Malcom's Office tries to convey the message that learning science can be fun and that knowledge of science should be made accessable to all. Rarely do people have an image of a scientist being a woman or black. That needs to change.
Her office sponsors a program called "Linkages", which seeks to use the existing social infrastructure in inner cities to promote science education. Black and Hispanic science students are asked to speak to younger students at playgrounds, urban centers, malls, street corners, etc.. The program is given in both English and Spanish. It also encourages course-taking, workshops for teachers, girl-scout merit badges, and involves the NAACP, Urban League, and churches.
Malcom concluded that scientists should be open to learning from educators. Also, to be must successful, scientists must go to where the people are at; don't always expect them to come to you.
The final speaker was Dr. F. James Rutherford, Chief Education Officer for AAAS. He spoke on "Project 2061: Education for a Changing Future."
Rutherford began by discussing historical perspectives and the current situation. Calls for reform in science education are being heard throughout the world. The political process depends on sound education, however the educational model that we now use is based on 19th century ideas. We must enter the 21st century. Knowledge should not always be handed from "on high". Instead, students must have the freedom to question and learn for themselves. We are also currently living through a revolution in knowledge. The science and technical revolution is central to our present existence. Moreover, there is a cultural revolution by that the world is not organized as it was earlier this century. Many people do not accept the notion that the world's wealth should be concentrated in the hands of a few nations.
Currently, many educators are considering three questions. First, what should be taught? Second, how should it be taught? Third, who should teach it? Rutherford noted that science courses frequently turn students off and testing policies are often counterproductive. Power in American education is widely distributed, which is both a strength and a weakness. Moreover, we are faced with tremendous cultural diversity, which is also a source of strength, as well as being a problem.
To deal with these issues, AAAS initiated Project 2061. The name reflects the fact that the world has changed radically since Haley's Comet visited in 1910, and will change again by its next visit in the year 2061. Many of the students whom we are teaching now will be alive at that time, and their education must last them for a lifetime.
Project 2061 is very long term; the smallest unit of measure is a decade. The goal is to improve scientific literacy. All people should have some good sense of science-understanding. Three phases have been proposed: (1) agree upon the outcomes for schools; (2) develop a set of blueprints to achieve those outcomes; (3) implement the process, using available resources and developing those new ones that are needed.
Phase 1 lasted three years and is now complete. To best determine the outcomes, panels of scientists were convened. In the biological sciences, the panel was from San Diego. They are drafting a report that will attempt to specify the outcomes, indicate levels of sophistication, and try to organize the "little pieces". They are attempting to ascertain the modes of instruction that would appeal to all students, and the knowledge that will be necessary to help them understand the world.
The panel has developed three recommendations. First, students need to know the nature of the scientific endeavor, including its limitations. They need to know what inquiry is, as well as the ways that scientists disseminate their findings. Second, students should have a view of the world that includes its physical setting (cosmos and earth), the unity and diversity of biology, the physical basis for ecosystem organization, the organization of human societies, our ability to alter the world through agriculture and manufacturing, and the nature and use of mathematics, including statistics. Third, students should have see science in a historical setting that includes mention of Newton and Darwin. The importance of scale-size, systems and evolution should be emphasized. Fourth, students should be taught appropriate, realistic attitudes toward science and scientists (e.g., scientists can be both "good" and "bad", "smart" and "not smart", etc.).
Following the panel, those in attendance were invited to participate in one of six "breakout groups" to discuss three questions. What is "public understanding of science"? How can scientists bring their expertise to a grass-roots effort to improve science literacy? How can scienctists overcome a tendency toward aloofness? That session lasted for about two hours. Each group had a chair and a rapporteur who recorded the responses and were instructed to provide a summary for the next day.
On Saturday morning, 29 October, a plenary session entitled "Why It Matters" was held. Mr. Michael Dence, Executive Director of the Royal Society of Canada chaired the session.
The first speaker was Mr. Alan McGowan, President, Scientists' Institute for Public Information. The title of his talk was "Time to Innovate". He began by noting that, in order to be effective, scientists must be good at communicating their research, as well as at conducting it.
McGowan has organized a third-party media resource service. The philosophy behind his organization is that the public will listen if we can get the right scientists to speak to a particular issue. The public does want to hear about science; sixty-nine daily newspapers have a weekly science section.
American commercial television features very little science and does not typically have access to a pool of scientists for expert onpinion. He offers videotapes related to various science issues to any television stations that are in need. They are sent to the stations via satellite.
There are other ideas that can be explored. One is a "set-aside" from each research grant that would be used to disseminate the findings to those not in the immediate field. A second is for insitutions of higher education to give teaching and tenure credit to individuals who engage in public outreach activities, such as speaking to the public, writing, television appearances, etc. A third is to create area consortia of universities, hospitals and research labs that would develop lists of scientists who could be available to local media to speak as experts on particular issues when needed. Awards could be given for those who are most successful at providing outstanding communication to the public. A fourth idea is for local science organizations to sponsor workshops on effective media interaction. The net effect of those efforts would be to increase the public's real understanding of science.
A difficulty with science reporting is that it must be internationalized. However, some of the topics relate to national security and competitiveness. For example, the effort to map the human genome should be an international one. However, there is considerable pressure to limit the work, and hence the benefits, to the U.S. Another example relates to whether technological aid should be given to underdeveloped countries. There is strong opinion either way. The media does not quite know how to report such issues. Since there are so many issues that are global (e.g., population issues, acid rain, ozone depletion, greenhouse effect), efforts should be made to make reporting them international. McGowan concluded that such efforts will take considerable cooperation from all nations.
The second speaker was Dr. William Raub, Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health (and a Wilkes College alumnus). In his talk, entitled "To Your Health", Raub focused on public understanding of public health and biomedical science. He noted that people are extremely interested (often to the point of obsession) about health science. Health care has had a great effect on our lives, but we still do not know enough.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a budget of $7.1 billion. That money goes to basic research, the training of scientists, and education and outreach efforts. The funding is very broad, going to basic research and targeted problems alike.
The public has great faith in science being able to overcome disease. Funding is most generous, yet expectations are high. Despite the fact that NIH is well funded and there has been much success in overcoming disease, three well defined problems exist.
First, there is a drive for research to have substantial relevance. Due to a large gap between the knowledge-base of NIH scientists and the public, there is a considerable amount of disdain, disinterest, and excessively high expectations. The emergence of biotechnology points to the importance of education. The public must learn the benefits of basic research.
Second, there is a controversy concerning the use of animals in research. Surely, any ban on animal testing would stop biomedical research. Still, some groups are intent on halting such research, and have even gone so far as to break into labs and destroy the facilities. The outcry has led some scientists to abandon certain areas of research, such as experimental head injury. Legitimate issues such as humane treatment of laboratory animals and conservation of rare species have been bastardized. To counter this, scientists must explain to all why the use of animals is necessary.
A final problem relates to the use of placebos (false drugs) in medical research. For a research project to be valid, the effect of a certain proposed medicine must be compared against a control. In biomedical research, some people with a given ailment are treated with the experimental medicine under investigation, while other people with the same ailment are given a placebo. To ensure rigor and elliminate bias, the tests are done in a double-blind manner, meaning that neither the patient nor the physician know who is receiving which treatment. The question arises, however, concerning the ethics of giving a placebo to anyone suffering a disease, especially one that is potentially fatal.
Dr. Raub concluded that scientists must understand the public to ensure effective communication. Indeed, scientists need the public.
The third talk was given by Dr. Alvin Trivelpiece, Executive Officer of AAAS. The title of his talk was "Opportunities for Scientific Societies". He began by noting that there is an important political aspect to understanding science. Each candidate for public office should be asked to state their views on science education. That would lead to a greater amount of interest on the part of the candidate.
In government, monetary resources are limited and the competition from other programs is great. Occasionally, funding that is offered to scientists is not quickly utilized. The result is that the money is shifted to other parts of the overall budget. It is difficult for a government official to give money to the study of quarks, for example, when farmers are committing suicide due to mortgage foreclosures. Politicians who fund science over domestic concerns run the risk of not getting re-elected.
Politicians should be invited to visit labs to see the work being done, first hand. On that basis, there is an opportunity for scientific societies. Local politicians could benefit from the exposure, as well.
There are other strategies that can be followed. For example, every pediatrician should present good information about science to his/her patients. Also different scientific societies can collaborate, even on a national level.
The fourth speaker was Mr. George Tressel, Research and Informal Science Education of NSF. The title of his talk was "The Public Stake". He began by stating that among the general public, 20% are interested in science, an additional 20% can be induced to become interested, while the remaining 60% do not care. Indeed, 50% of the public are not interested in anything! To reach beyond the 20% who are interested, we must use the mass media. However, mass media does not create interest, but follows interest. Museums have a great potential to reach many people.
Tressel noted that an important aspect of public understanding is public appreciation. The public does appreciate us, but does not know why.
According to information from the AAAS, early childhood education is of great importance toward later science understanding. The low level of public understanding is due, in part, to a high drop-out rate among high-school students. Moreover, only 23% of the total population takes at least three years of science. Very few take any kind of science before high school.
What can scientists do to help? First, provide input to managers of television stations concerning the programs that children watch immediately after school. Second, volunteer for the local science museum and assist in scouting programs. Third, organize a laboratory open house. Fourth, look at the curriculum in the local schools. Since we are in a technical society, children should learn about science.
After Tressel's talk, there was a discussion period. One interesting point was raised by the delegate from the Ford Motor Company, who expressed the concern of many industries that their products are becoming technologically more advanced, yet people cannot use them. Indeed if people were better educated and technologically more advanced, then manufacturers could turn out more sophisticated products.
Following the plenary session, the delegates returned to the breakout groups. The purpose was to exchange ideas concerning ways in which scientists and Sigma Xi clubs can work to improve public understanding of science.
At the session that I attended, there were many good suggestions offered. Included among them were:
--Sponsor and serve as judges in science fairs. Provide money to help students buy materials. Provide awards for outstanding projects.
--Give an award to teachers. Let local chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics societies provide nominations. Co-sponsor the award with industry.
--Start a "Scientist in the Classroom" program, where a scientists visits for one day (or a part thereof) to give a presentation and consult with teachers. When attempting to set up such a program, care should be taken to work with the science coordinators and to suggest scientists who have the appropriate personality.
--Set up workshops and summer research opportunities for teachers.
--Institute programs for parents.
--Work with community groups (scouts, 4-H, Rotary, Sierra Club, National Rifle Association). Try to involve those groups who would not normally interact with scientists to avoid "preaching to the converted".
--Work with legislators at all levels. Visit them when they have open meetings with their consitituents. Invite them to speak at banquets. Legislators' staff members are also good to invite. Give a legislator recognition for voting on a specific bill that benefits science education.
--Sponsor collaborations with science teachers associations, museums, utility companies, commissions on science and technology.
After a lunch break, a plenary session entitled "Challenge to the Scientific Community" was held. Dr. M. Patricia Morse (President-elect of Sigma Xi) served as the chair, and Dr. Leon Lederman (Director, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory) served as the featured speaker.
Lederman began his talk with an assertion that public understanding of science is abysmal. The definition of "understanding" can cause some confusion, however. It is not really science "literacy", but is instead "savvy, comfort-level, interest and appreciation". It's "the lack of a glaze in the eye as science comes up in conversation".
Science often does not come across in television news because directors are uncomfortable. Also, politicians tend to avoid science.
Where do we begin to alleviate the situation? We need to target all age groups including elementary school students, high school students, college students, and adults. There is a great deal that can be done with each group, but there are also many pitfalls. Long-term solutions are needed.
We should try as best we can to popularize science. There are many successes, for example, Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time, was a best seller for 27 weeks.
At the college-level, we need to realize that we have students in our grasp for four years. Unfortunately, there are many faculty members in the humanities who deplore science. Science professors should have good interaction with their colleagues in the humanities, and we should try to get natural science topics included within courses in the social sciences and humanities. One way to bridge the gaps would be to structure a new curriculum.
Other approaches can be taken. At the Fermi Laboratory, there is an outreach program that brings high school students in on Saturday mornings and treats them to three hours of physics lectures. The program is successful because the speakers try to make it as much fun as possible, while keeping quality of the content high. There is competition among the staff at the Lab to have the opportunity to present programs. Indeed, post-doctoral scientists receive recognition for their efforts. Students relate very well to post-docs. The Lab also sponsors conferences on teaching modern physics. Lederman also suggested offering seminars that would introduce students and teachers to research topics, developing programs that seek out gifed minority students, networking with science teachers, reaching into junior high schools, and working with scouting programs, elementary schools and summer honors programs.
Lederman concluded that we need to sell science, especially at the local level.
After Lederman's talk, there was a session entitled "Synthesis and Summary" at which time, the ideas that were generated during Friday's breakout groups were reviewed. Many ideas were offered, including:
--We must target our audience and present information that is relevant.
--We should help young teachers and parents. Work with women. In the short run, target those who have the power to influence others. These would include teachers, activists, those in the media, and policy makers at all levels. Strive to mix people together and get them to think about science.
--Although most, if not all, scientists should be involved in improving public understanding, realize that some scientists are very poor at it. Try to match the activity to suit the communicative strengths of the scientist.
--Organize forums in which we bring together scientists and non-scientists to discuss issues and spark debate. Invite the media. Request advice from the media as to what is relevant.
--Get industry involved. There is tremendous concern from that sector about public understanding of science.
--Academicians should teach their graduate students that it is acceptable to be good at communicating science to non-scientists. Have grad students put together video-tapes of their research that they could present to non-scientists.
--Be open to input from non-scientists, don't be elitist. Be sensitive to the value system of others and be careful with language (don't use an excessive amount of jargon). Don't be afraid to say "I don't know."
--Sigma Xi and AAAS should put pressure on universities to provide more recognition to those faculty (especially non-tenured) who effectively engage in outreach efforts.
--Journalism students should be encouraged to write about science topics.
--Distribute a list of scientists, along with their areas of expertise, to lawmakers and the media.
--Offer basic courses in science on a continuing education basis.
--Develop a speakers bureau, both at the local and statewide levels.
--Sigma Xi should introduce programs that would enhance critical-thinking skills of non-scientists.
--Encourage networks to incorporate more science into their programming, even into sit-coms and dramas.
--Scientists are really heroes to a large extent. Why don't they receive as much recognition as astronauts or sports stars?
After the Synthesis and Summary Session, Dr. Thomas Malone provided some conclusions. He stated that the situation has four dimensions.
The first is at the level of personal commitment. People are motivated to do science not necessarily to get research dollars, but to contribute to society and intellectual enjoyment. Society's value system is skewed, however; scientists and science teachers should be paid more.
The second is at the level of the institution. There should be greater cooperation between institutions. Include politicians and businesses. A good opportunity for institutions is the upcoming National Science and Technology Week (23-29 April 1989).
The third is at the national level. We need a clearinghouse nationally. We should work in the same direction. Fortune 500 companies and labor unions all have a stake in this.
Finally, the fourth is the international level. As mentioned earlier in the meeting, enhancing public understanding of science is a worldwide concern, and those from different nations should coordinate their efforts within an international framework.
On Sunday morning, 30 October, a regional assembly was held to elect regional officers and to discuss the two resolutions to be voted on by the main body (see p. 1). That was followed by a general assembly of delegates. Included among the business transacted at that general assembly was the rejection of both proposals.
The annual meeting was adjourned following the conclusion of that session.
Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology
and Earth & Environmental Science
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766
717-824-4651 ext. 4758