Recently, I learned that the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, with support from the Sloan Foundation, had undertaken a path-breaking project to examine what scientists understand about the public. The Academy held four sessions on the topic with experts over the past year and a half, and then asked me to write a paper about the workshops and what they taught and revealed.
The initiative, and my paper, are scheduled to be unveiled at an event at the American Association for the Advancement of Science auditorium in Washington, D.C., on June 29, co-sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Washington Science Policy Alliance. The event requires registration, and here is a write up for it:
While considerable attention has been paid to strengthening public education in science and technology, less effort has gone into helping researchers understand what lies behind the public response to new advances and discoveries. Public concerns about scientific developments can come not only from ignorance, but also from legitimate worries. In 2008, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences launched a study on what the scientific community knows or should know about the public and its concerns. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this project considers the role of the scientist and the public in deliberations about the tradeoffs inherent in scientific or technological developments.
The American Academy brought together leading scientists and technologists, ethicists, public policy experts, former public officials, science journalists, and others to discuss and improve awareness of the broader social and cultural context for scientific work. The project focused on four topics identified as timely and likely to benefit from the type of public deliberation envisioned by the project. The first workshop focused on The Next Generation of the Internet and was chaired by David Clark (MIT), a leader in the development of the Internet. A second workshop focused on the Public Perceptions of Nuclear Waste Repositories; it was chaired by Thomas Isaacs (Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). The third workshop on The Spread of Personal Genetic Information, was chaired by David Altshuler (Broad Institute). The fourth workshop, chaired by Robert Fri (Resources for the Future), explored the Risks and Benefits of Emerging Energy Technologies.
Please join the American Academy and the Washington Science Policy Alliance to learn more about the findings and recommendations of the Scientists’ Understanding of the Public project.
Robert Fri, Visiting Scholar and Senior Fellow Emeritus, Resources for the Future
Chris Mooney, Science and Political Journalist and Commentator
I may as well add that this event will be kind of a homecoming event for me, as I am moving back to DC after nearly a year in Cambridge and at MIT, and this is the first formal thing I’m doing there. So I’m really honored to be involved in this very important project–one that neatly inverts the common conceit that the public needs to understand more science, and suggests that in addition, scientists also need to understand more public.
P.S.: As soon as my paper on this initiative is public, I will link to it. It is a 7,000 word essay that I’m quite proud of, and whose release is neatly timed with the paperback release of Unscientific America, many of whose themes it echoes. So….more on this soon.