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Alan I. Leshner: Learning to Listen Builds Deeper Engagement with the Public
Dr. Alan I. Leshner
For science to truly serve society, biomedical scientists and practitioners need to take advantage of opportunities to engage more fully with the public, writes AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner in a commentary published 19 September in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Leshner noted that the tension between science and society is a symptom of the lack of public understanding about the nature of science and the increasing encroachment of science on issues related to human values and beliefs, and he cited evolution, human embryonic stem cell research, and advances in brain imaging techniques as examples.
"Both biomedical researchers and practitioners can do something about these science-society problems and thereby increase the impact and effectiveness of their own work," wrote Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science. "Practitioners and researchers have numerous opportunities to discuss science and scientific evidence with their patients, families, friends, and others, whether in one-on-one conversations or through participation in community groups. Fully addressing the need will require more than an expanded form of education... To take it one step further, teachable moments should be converted to 'engagement moments.'"
He described the fundamental principles of public engagement with science as recognizing the legitimate perspectives of the public and viewing interactions as opportunities for science-society dialogues in which all sides listen and learn.
"But ultimately, what public engagement means at its core is to listen as well as to educate patients. This basic principle, while seemingly simple, is deceptively difficult to implement," he wrote. "By better understanding points of common ground and points of irreducible conflict, researchers and practitioners can do a better job both of anticipating other potential instances of science-society tension and of preparing the potential recipients for the products of their work."
JAMA is the most widely circulated medical journal in the world.
19 September 2007