News: AAAS News & Notes
25 March 2005
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Jackson: Scientists Should Work to Solve Problems and Build Trust
Public mistrust and diminishing government support have put American science and engineering at a "critical juncture," despite myriad life-enhancing achievements that have emerged from the recent era of discovery, Shirley Ann Jackson said in her AAAS Presidential Address.
In a speech that formally opened the 2005 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Jackson urged scientists and engineers to renew their commitment to public engagement and serving humanity, saying that they needed to be a voice of reason in a time of conflict and confusion.
"On issues ranging from genetic engineering and stem cell research to the search for weapons of mass destruction, our public discourse abounds with controversy--and the volume and passion of the rhetoric sometimes drowns the voice of science," Jackson said. "The war on terror, the uneven economic expansion of the recent past, and the U.S. federal budget deficit have weakened U.S. government resolve to invest in basic research and the development of scientific talent. This is happening just when we should be investing more--not less."
Jackson, a physicist, is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. At the close of the annual meeting last month, she became chair of the AAAS Board of Directors, having served as President since February 2004. Her interests include science and technology policy and nuclear energy and regulation. She has built a record of accomplishment and service that today makes her one of the most influential figures in global science.
During her 17 February address, Jackson described four trends that are shaping the landscape for science and engineering early in the 21st century. A more multidisciplinary approach to science has yielded new insights and new solutions, she said. But in the concern over national security that has followed the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, policy has too often overlooked how issues of food, health, infrastructure, and environment in developing countries can influence security in developed nations.
Further, Jackson said, the United States is at risk of losing its capacity to innovate because the science and engineering workforce is rapidly aging, and there are not enough students--U.S. or international--in the pipeline to replace them. These trends are compounded by a communications environment that features more sources of information and more opposing perspectives from a host of "new experts," making it more difficult for the public to decipher what is "fact."
"The result is the devaluing of information, and even the devaluing of science," Jackson told the audience. "This trend threatens the concept of the scientist as the dispassionate, objective voice of reason--and, also, the authoritative role of science in helping to shape sound public policy."
Jackson urged the science and engineering communities to engage more in key public policy debates. She also called for "a full-fledged national commitment to invest in basic research in science and engineering across a broad disciplinary front," and for a "national focus and commitment to develop the complete talent pool," recruiting young scientists and engineers from every cultural group and class. And she urged discipline-specific scientific and engineering societies to follow AAAS's lead in engaging with the public.
By following this broad course of education, capacity-building, and "respectful" engagement, Jackson said, "we can heal rifts, address rising expectations worldwide, ensure our security by helping others to feel secure, and usher in a new "golden age of scientific discovery." (Read the full text of the AAAS Presidential Address.)
Awards Issued for Excellence in Science Books
Four children's book authors, a general-interest science writer, and an illustrator won the first-ever AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
The prizes, awarded for the first time this year, were given to winners who had compiled a superior body of work over the course of their careers. In future years, the prize will be awarded for recently published individual titles.
"Many scientists credit books as being responsible for turning them on to science," said Shirley Malcom, AAAS head of Education and Human Resources. "We're grateful to be able to honor those authors whose books have been essential in fostering a better understanding and appreciation of science in children and youth."
Winners in the Children's Science Book category were Patricia Lauber, author of more than 125 books, including Journey to the Planets; Laurence Pringle, author of over 100 books, including Sharks! Strange and Wonderful; and Seymour Simon, author of 200 books, many of which have won awards from the National Science Teachers Association.
Bernie Zubrowski, author of 16 books, won in the Hands-on Science Book category. Jim Arnosky, author/illustrator of Drawing From Nature, won in the Children's Science Book Illustrator category. And physicist James Trefil, known for work that teaches science to nonscientists, won in the Popular Science Book category.
SB&F (Science, Books & Film) is a journal published by AAAS that evaluates books, videos, and software (see www.sbfonline.com).
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