I wasn’t a very good blogger last week–for which I am very sorry.
However, I will be more than making up for it in the coming week (and giving Sheril a break), as I’m going to be unveiling a considerable amount of new and in some cases experimental content–all organized around the theme of communicating science to broader audiences.
First off, this is the week when the images from the new Rock Stars of Science™ campaign are going public in GQ magazine’s blockbuster “Men of the Year” issue. So stand by for a roll-out of that, starting with a retrospective on the scientists who participated in 2009 and what the experience was like for them.
And second, on Wednesday and Thursday I’m one of three trainers at this National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop on science communication at George Washington University. It’s entitled “Science: Becoming the Messenger,” and little do they know it yet, but I have a suspicion that you may hear from some workshop participants right here on the blog!
There may be other sci comm news as well…but already, that’s a lot. So stand by….
Yesterday I appeared on a panel at the 2010 National Association of Science Writers meeting, along with public opinion experts Jon Miller and Carolyn L. Funk. Two write ups of the panel appeared on the event blog subsequently–here and here. To describe the event, then, let me just quote:
If you had $1 to spend on improving science literacy in America, how would you spend it? That was the question posed by Rick Borchelt, an organizer of today’s Civics of science session, to panelists Carolyn L. Funk, Jon Miller, and Chris Mooney.
Miller proposed spending half his dollar on improving pre-college science education, with the remainder on adult learning, a small portion of which would be used for science journalism. Mooney suggested spending the whole dollar on creating jobs for science journalists and young scientists, building an army of people devoted to improving public science literacy. And Funk said most of her dollar would go into the education system, with spending divided on efforts to incorporate science standards into elementary and lower-level education and on adult learning and informal adult education, the area where mainstream science journalism has its greatest impact.
Although the session raised more questions than it provided answers, the Agronsky & Co. style discussion, as promised, led to some interesting debate about the place of science journalism in science literacy and education in the United States. Science journalism is concerned mainly with delivering information about the latest developments in scientific discovery, and today most science reporting operates within the “just-in-time” model of new media. The cultural importance of science, the future of which could hinge on fitting into the new media scene, was perhaps most entertainingly discussed within the context of music and Rock Stars, a topic introduced by Mooney. Whether science and science journalism would benefit from riding the coat-tails of mass media remains to be seen.
As you can see, I talked a lot about the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Rock Stars of Science™ campaign at the panel–my current attempt to contribute to part of the solution.
One central issue that arose yesterday was how to identify the most important measure of scientific “illiteracy”–and how to assess whether the decline of science journalism is affecting that measure. Here, I argued that we should focus on the public’s engagement with science, and on science’s cultural standing, rather than strictly considering citizens’ knowledge of scientific facts.
I think the former is what’s really critical, as well as more closely tied to how journalism and media are faring. And in this sense, I don’t doubt that using celebrities and rock stars to draw greater attention to science is a solution that’s going to work.
Thanks to Sean Schmidt, I’ve been introduced to yet another pro-science musician: country music star Brad Paisley. I didn’t follow country before, so I’d never heard of him, but wow–Paisley’s song “Wecome to the Future” is just about the most stirring paean to American technological ingenuity and progress that I’ve ever heard or seen. And the whole message comes wrapped in a stars-and-stripes packaging that even a Tea Partier could love.
Watching Paisley’s video, I don’t see how anyone can question the fundamental premise of the Rock Stars of Science™ campaign--that musicians are some of our most powerful allies in spreading the good word about science and its importance to our lives, health, and national future.
Watching this puts me in mind of something about tomorrow’s election, by the way, and I wonder if others would agree.
Seeing those images of windmills, and hearing kids talking about how they want to be scientists while country rock jangles in the background–it all makes me think that even if we do elect a crop of know-nothing climate deniers tomorrow, the message about clean energy and keeping America ahead in technology is not something that can ultimately be kept down. It’s simply too resonant, and too powerful. Too groovy, and too infectious.
That’s the reason clean energy and tech innovators are expected to soundly defeat dirty out-of-state oil interests in the Prop 23 showdown in California. The clean energy and tech guys have got a much better message, because a) no one can question their fundamental contribution to America’s prosperity; and b) they have the future (“Welcome to the Future”) on their side to boot.
We’re very lucky that’s the case. And we’re very lucky to have musicians like Brad Paisley singing the same tune.
We’re beginning to ramp up the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Rock Stars of Science™ campaign, as the new launch approaches in the December “Men of the Year” issue of GQ. With the new images still not public, though, it’s first worth going back over last year’s campaign and reminiscing, as well as reminding folks of what came before.
To that end, I really liked this video of Seal explaining why he got involved–saying very frankly that if his celebrity can help scientists gain more recognition and research funding, it will be “a day in my life well spent”:
What do folks think–does Seal’s message work for you, and work for science?
I’ve got a piece at Huffington Post today about scientific illiteracy and public disengagement–and some possible answers. An excerpt:
Take clean energy, the industry of the future. Globally, the clean energy economy is booming–and China is now its clear leader. The U.S. fell into a distant second place last year in clean energy investment and finance, as China spent $ 34.6 billion to our $18.6 billion.
A similar story emerges in the biomedical arena, where our research investments haven’t kept pace with national health priorities. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease is now the seventh leading cause of death in the US, and accounts for 34 percent of total Medicare spending. Yet in terms of research, it’s a stepchild: Funding through the National Institutes of Health is currently less than $ 500 million per year.
How do you make Americans more focused on the centrality of science to our future? It isn’t easy given the nature of our national conversation–with serious science news vanishing from the media–and our already limited attention constantly directed elsewhere, including debating whether to elect global warming denying candidates to Congress this November 2. Read More
Readers know well that here at the Intersection we care a great deal about increasing the public visibility of science, and trying to ensure that our researchers are recognized as the national heroes they are. That’s what Unscientific America was all about.
And that’s why I’ve decided to team up with an initiative that has dramatic potential to make Americans far more aware of science, and it’s importance to our future.
That initiative is the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Rock Stars of Science™ campaign–whose most famous image is pictured at right.
Geoffrey Beene is a designer men’s clothing brand; its foundation funds philanthropic causes–many of them relating to the advancement of biomedical research and the search for cures for devastating diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
For instance, in 2006 it founded the Geoffrey Beene Cancer Research Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and has given over $ 110 million in value from Geoffrey Beene combined entities to innovative translational cancer research.
Rock Stars of Science™ is another Geoffrey Beene initiative, designed to raise the visibility of our leading researchers by pairing them with musicians–and showing that scientists rock and are themselves celebrities and superstars. Read More