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Peter Agre, Alan I. Leshner: Building a Stronger Bridge Between Science and the Public

SAN DIEGO—American society should be concerned about signs of a growing gap between scientists and the public, and both the research community and individual scientists should seek new ways to strengthen the relationship, two top AAAS officials wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Peter Agre

In a commentary published on the opening day of the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego, AAAS President Peter Agre and CEO Alan I. Leshner noted that the historically close partnership between science and the public had yielded extraordinary benefits—measured in jobs, health, and public well-being—since World War II.
[Read the full commentary in the Union-Tribune's 18 February edition.]

Alan I. Leshner

But recent reports by the National Science Board and the Pew Research Center for People & the Press have shown strains in the relationship—the authors characterized it as “a creeping loss of interest and confidence in science.” That’s evident, they said, in issues such as teaching evolution in public schools, embryonic stem cell research, climate change, and energy policy.

“In an era of incredible opportunities and profound problems, our nation can only thrive if decisions are shaped by a science-literate public and well-informed policymakers,” Agre and Leshner wrote. “Those may be the defining challenges for our research enterprise in the 21st century.”

Peter Agre, M.D., is the 2003 Nobel Laureate in chemistry and director of the Malaria Research Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Leshner is executive publisher of the journal Science.

They cited San Diego as a world leader in creating a positive engagement between science and the public.

“The San Diego region offers a case study in how public engagement with science can enrich and elevate the daily life of a community,” they wrote. “The San Diego Zoo and the region’s aquariums are known to children and adults throughout Southern California and beyond. The San Diego schools and universities are respected for their teaching and research. The San Diego Science Festival, after just one year, has spawned the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., in October.

“But given the magnitude of the challenges, additional individual scientists and engineers must join the effort. If each devoted 10 percent of their time to public service, they would contribute greatly to science literacy and raise the profile of science in their communities—from schools and civic groups to churches and Scout troops. That could strengthen the relationship between scientists and the public, renewing the partnership that has for decades kept the United States healthy and strong.”