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Science Literacy Opens Path to Future Knowledge, Says AAAS CEO in China

AAAS CEO Rush Holt, left image, met with Wang Zhigang, the minister of Science & Technology, at the Ministry of Science & Technology in Beijing. Holt, right image, also participated in a round-table discussion on promoting public science literacy around the globe. | Julia MacKenzie/AAAS

The scientific community needs to increase public appreciation of science and engineering and expand science literacy beyond students and scientists, said Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, during a global science literacy conference in Beijing.

“Promoting science literacy is more than teaching facts and figures about yesterday’s and today’s understanding of how the world works, but rather showing that there is a path to tomorrow’s knowledge and that path is open to everyone,” said Holt, who is also the executive publisher of the Science family of journals.

“To take that path does not require elaborate methodology or intricate technologies. It requires only asking questions that can be answered with evidence, removing bias in following the evidence, and being willing to change one’s mind,” Holt added.

The China Association for Science and Technology, China’s largest non-governmental scientific and technological community of academic societies, associations and local organizations, hosted the three-day Global Science Literacy Conference to mark the 60th anniversary of CAST.

The gathering convened at a time of elevated tension between the United States and China over trade, intellectual property, immigration policies and concerns of foreign government interference.

The White House has imposed tariffs on Chinese goods and is moving toward more trade restrictions. New limits have been placed on Chinese investments, particularly those related to the U.S. technological innovation sector, in an effort to protect U.S. intellectual property. In testimony before Congress on August 23, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins pointed to foreign presence in academia, urging U.S. academics to work with NIH and the FBI regarding threats to intellectual property. Collins did not specify which countries pose such threats.

Those attending the Beijing conference focused on science literacy, steering clear of bilateral tensions between the United States and China.

During the conference, Holt used the opportunity to meet with four leaders of China’s most influential scientific organizations, all of whom are relatively new to their current positions after the Chinese government recently reorganized its scientific institutions.

Holt met with Wang Zhigang, minister of the Ministry of Science & Technology, which sets science and technology policy and leads scientific planning; Huai Jinpeng, executive vice president and chief executive secretary of CAST; Li Jinghai, president of the National Natural Science Foundation, China’s primary scientific competitive funding agency, which the government merged into the Ministry of Science & Technology; and Wu Yue-liang, vice president of the University of the Chinese Academy of Science, China’s largest graduate university, which also accepts undergraduate, post-graduate and international students.

In an opening address on expanding the public reach of science literacy, Holt said that the “free flow of ideas, the freedom to travel and collaborate, adequate support and facilities, a diversity of people and perspectives and public understanding and appreciation” are vital for science to thrive.

“We must work to help all people realize the benefits of science, and to limit the potential risks of technology,” said Holt.

AAAS and CAST share a 38-year partnership that is among the organizations’ most enduring international science collaborations. AAAS first reached out to China’s science, technology and engineering community when the AAAS Board of Directors traveled to China in 1978, a year before the two nations established diplomatic relations.

Since then, AAAS and CAST have continued to seek ways to deepen mutual engagement among scientists and engineers. Among joint efforts, EurekAlert!, an online science news service of AAAS, has provided science communication seminars for public information officers at CAST and Chinese universities. AAAS also has collaborated with CAST on issues of scientific integrity and professional ethics.

Most recently, six CAST representatives met this spring with AAAS officials at AAAS headquarters in Washington in preparation for the science literacy conference.

In his second presentation at the conference, on promoting science literacy and government responsibilities, Holt pointed to one of AAAS’ early agreements with CAST – a 2007 collaboration that led to the translation and distribution of a set of science literacy materials developed by AAAS’ Project 2061, a science literacy program. The translated material also was posted on a CAST website.

AAAS recently entered into a joint publishing project with CAST, Holt noted, that resulted in the launch of Research, a multi-disciplinary, open-access Science Partner Journal.

“We all benefit from the exploration of our world,” Holt said.

[Associated image: Julia MacKenzie/AAAS]