My Perspective In Issues In Science And Technology

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 30, 2008 11:16 am

The latest publication of Issues In Science And Technology features an article I co-authored with ScienceDebate CEO Shawn Lawrence Otto. We discuss building the ScienceDebate2008 initiative, lessons from the election, and what’s needed to create an environment where the public’s understanding and appreciation of science policy will make scientists critical in the political process. Here’s an excerpt from Science on the Campaign Trail:

Probing further, the Science Debate team learned that science was seen as a niche topic by the campaigns, and a presidential debate dedicated to science policy issues such as climate change, innovation, research, health care, energy, ocean health, stem cells, and the like was viewed as requiring extensive preparation and posing high risk for a limited return.

Science Debate 2008 wanted to test this assumption, so it partnered with Research!America and hired Harris to conduct a national poll. The results were astounding: Fully 85% of U.S. adults said the presidential candidates should participate in a debate to discuss key policy problems facing the United States, such as health care, climate change, and energy, and how science can help tackle them. There was virtually no difference across party lines. Contrary to the candidates’ assumptions, science is of broad concern to the public.

I’ll let readers know when our full piece becomes available online. Also note the Issues cover image above is that of the previous issue.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics and Science

Comments (5)

  1. Scott Belyea

    The results were astounding: Fully 85% of U.S. adults said the presidential candidates should participate in a debate to discuss key policy problems facing the United States, such as health care, climate change, and energy, and how science can help tackle them. There was virtually no difference across party lines. Contrary to the candidates’ assumptions, science is of broad concern to the public.

    If this brief paragraph is an accurate summary, then I suggest that the conclusion that “science is of broad concern to the public” is unjustified. It sounds to me as though you want to lump a bunch of things as “science” and that many of hte public just don’t see it that way.

    You can call it a classification issue or a framing issue or whatever, but I doubt that a very high % of the public would classify health care or climate change or energy as “science issues.” And indeed, by so classifying them, you capture only a part of the issue and miss the equally important public policy concerns and problems.

  2. If this brief paragraph is an accurate summary, then I suggest that the conclusion that “science is of broad concern to the public” is unjustified.

    Scott, there is a lot more to the piece that justifies what you’re concerned about. Hopefully, I’ll be able to link the full article soon.

  3. I hope everyone will read the article, as I have–it’s really excellent. ScienceDebate2008 was the biggest science-society/science-politics experiment in this country in quite some time, I would argue. We must, simply must, learn the right lessons from it, and build upon it.

  4. Scott has hit on the central issue that concerns many of us. Science can provide both good predictions, and a suite of answers to the issues he highlights. But they are not “science issues” in as much as science as an enterprise does not actually execute the policies that are needed to address these issues.

    Where Scott gets it wrong, however, is that there is no association between science and, for instance, climate change. It is true that the general public does not SEE an association, but that lack of connection is something that can be addressed. It could have been addressed quite handily at Science Debate.

  5. David Bruggeman

    I have a hard time seeing how any candidate debate would educate people on the issues. It can educate people on what the candidates think on the issues, and what they want to do about them. But it’s a bit of a leap to assume that people would learn more about that issue as a result.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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