Skip to main content

Scientific community/Science communication

As a professor of computer science, cognitive science, and mechanical engineering at Yale University, Brian Scassellati gets a lot of calls to lead robot demos for kids. The robots he develops provide support for education and therapy and are often specifically focused on diagnosing or treating autism spectrum disorder, so he also gets a fair amount of media interest in his work. However, during his year as a 2020-21 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow, Scassellati hoped to devote more time to writing a book geared toward the public. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to put most of this on hold to manage his lab and students during the crisis. Yet other opportunities arose to engage with public audiences over the past year.

For the past year and a half, AAAS Civic Science Fellow Blake McGhghy explored ways in which science-society relationships develop and can be nurtured to better connect science with social values, local knowledge, and community priorities. Focusing specifically on community engagement with climate, McGhghy studied approaches that lead to more equitable and effective information-sharing and decision-making, providing insights that could be applied to public engagement with science more broadly. 

Anita Nikolich works in what she calls “the gray space” between academia, government, industry, and the non-traditional artificial intelligence “underground” (e.g., hackers). Nikolich is the director of research and technology innovation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s School of Information Sciences, and is bringing together AI-related work at the university under one umbrella. But a significant chunk of her time, and a main focus of her public engagement during her AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellowship, is as co-lead of the DEF CON AI Village (hear more from Nikolich about her work and about AI and misinformation in this 6-minute video produced by AAAS).

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Lyle Ungar, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2020-21 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow, was concerned with how to get people good, fact-based advice about mask-wearing, especially once he realized mask availability was not the problem. Eventually he got in touch with two other professors at the University of Pennsylvania: Angela Duckworth, a behavioral psychologist, and Ezekiel Emanuel, professor of health care management, medical ethics and health policy. Together they published an op-ed in the New York Times in May 2020 laying out basic, actionable suggestions for making mask-wearing easy, understood, and expected. “What can psychology tell us?” says Ungar, who also has an appointment in the psychology department. “People have spent decades studying which interventions work and which don’t… It’s obvious now after the fact, but you definitely don’t tell people, ‘Don’t be stupid, wear a mask.’”

This year’s Inclusive SciComm Symposium, hosted by the University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute, included a session on October 15 on “Conservation and Environmental Justice: Faith Community Perspectives on Science Communication and Engagement.” It was organized by the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program with support from the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology. The virtual session brought together faith leaders and attendees, including many STEM graduate students and other early-career scientists, to discuss how religious communities are engaging on critical environmental issues affecting them and marginalized communities around the world.

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, learn about the science communication efforts of several Hispanic scientists connected to AAAS.

Scientists and engineers can play many roles in decision-making. Learn about mechanisms for engaging policymakers.

As part of the AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellowship, AAAS encourages fellows to advocate for change and promote public engagement in the scientific communities and institutions they’re a part of. Carolyn Rosé wanted to use her role as a founding chair of the International Alliance to Advance Learning in a Digital Era (IAALDE), which brings together education researchers from ten different scientific societies, to do just that. After considering many options, the group decided as a first step to hold a workshop to bring together researchers using artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology to develop educational tools, with education policymakers (such as those deciding what technology to use in schools, and school board members) and practitioners (such as curriculum developers and education non-profits), to understand how research could better serve educators.