This February 17 marked the tenth time AAAS has hosted the Communicating Science Seminar as part of its Annual Meeting, bringing together scientists, science communicators, and others interested in dialogue between scientists and the public. The sessions this year focused on cultural competence and cultural humility in public engagement with science, and on building connections and reciprocity between scientists and communities. There were also five discussion (“breakout”) sessions for participants to choose from later in the day.
When Siri Carpenter, who runs The Open Notebook (TON), and Kristin Lewis, who runs the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship (MMF), first met, they immediately wanted to collaborate: TON provides advice, tools, and resources for science journalists, and the MMF places science students or recent graduates in newsrooms for 10 weeks.
Stronger institutional support for public engagement is necessary and inclusive practices should be built into public engagement training and relationships, argue AAAS Center for Public Engagement staff Elana Kimbrell, Mary Catherine Longshore, and Gemima Philippe in a Perspective recently published in Frontiers in Communication.
Over the past year, the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors have been wrapping up more than 90 “She Can Change the World” public engagement projects they developed with “mini-grant” funding provided by Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
For the past few months, the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors have been wrapping up “She Can Change the World” public engagement projects they developed with “mini-grant” funding provided by Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
Over the past months, the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors have been wrapping up “She Can Change the World” public engagement projects they developed with “mini-grant” funding provided by Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
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.
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.
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.
For years, much of Heather Lynch’s public engagement has been policy-oriented, serving as a resource to Antarctic treaty negotiations. Most recently, following the discovery of penguins in the Danger Islands she has been part of an effort to make it an Antarctic Specially Protected Area. She’s also supported documentary film crews with their Antarctic expeditions by sharing her knowledge of different locations. She’s even helped identify species of penguin based just on photos of their feet for National Geographic Kids publications.
Bill Smart builds robots and researches human-robot interactions. He is also very interested in the policies that guide and regulate technology. Sometimes, he says, policymakers, like other members of the public, may expect too much of technology and give it more responsibility - and assumed objectivity - than it deserves. These and related concerns are being raised in many discussions about the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). This AAAS video series on responsible AI tackles some of these questions, as does this keynote lecture from Ruha Benjamin at the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting and a recent book by Kate Crawford, which seeks to demystify the “myth of AI” (i.e., its superhuman powers). Addressing these misperceptions and their implications are part of what motivates Smart – and many others in the 2020-21 cohort of AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellows -- to communicate about their work.
While data privacy is a hot topic in the United States, Abake Adenle says in many ways, it’s even more concerning in African countries. Safeguarding data privacy is more complex because foreign entities are the ones collecting most user data. Adenle wants to be part of engaging with a wide spectrum of the public in Africa, from urban centers to rural communities, to contextualize and broaden the discourse around artificial intelligence (AI), including data privacy, beyond generic narratives -- to help inform better policies and increase the benefits Africans can reap from AI. She sees this as part of her effort to do social good with the products her company develops, but also more broadly – and “you can’t know what societal good is in a bubble. It has to be a conversation.”
Six new stories – focused on issues ranging from strained food ecosystems to deadly heat waves – have been added to How We Respond, a AAAS project that spotlights communities around the country taking innovative, science-based steps to respond to climate change.
In addition to their scientific areas of expertise, AAAS Mass Media Fellows in Science and Engineering bring with them a passion for sharing science with broad audiences – and the Eureka moments that sparked that interest in science writing and communication.
Shouldn't the Starbucks app learn who pays with the app, and land them on the pay tab when they open the app while in a Starbucks? Shouldn't Instagram learn and auto-populate tags people use frequently? Shouldn't medical supply systems likewise learn what clinicians often want? So much attention gets focused on cutting-edge applications of artificial intelligence (AI), like self-driving cars or robotic surgery, that many mundane but immediately useful time- and cost-saving applications get overlooked, says John Zimmerman, professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University and a 2020-21 AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellow.
One of Biplav Srivastava’s long-term goals is to help people use technology to solve the problems they face. This wasn’t always his top priority, though – for many years after completing his Ph.D., he didn’t really worry about connecting his research to real-world impacts. Then, he says, he started to become very concerned that while his work was having significant commercial success, “it meant nothing on the street… it has limited value if you can’t see it around you.”
On Earth Day and throughout the year, AAAS programs highlight the scientific evidence on climate change – and share how that evidence informs local, state and regional responses to climate change’s effects.
After years working on artificial intelligence (AI) at IBM and elsewhere, new Tulane University assistant professor Nicholas Mattei has focused much of his efforts during his AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellowship on introducing his data science students to community-engaged scholarship. Undergraduate students at Tulane are required to take a service-learning course, yet there aren’t many options for students in computer science to fulfill this requirement within their field. In his course, Mattei hoped to help his students learn about what the local New Orleans community is interested in, and what data they might analyze in ways that could contribute to future community action. This builds toward the goal of helping future AI researchers engage with the public in mutually beneficial ways, so scientists understand what the public wants from technology, and the public has a realistic understanding of technology’s limits and its possibilities.
On Friday, February 5, several hundred participants gathered online for the ninth annual AAAS Communicating Science Seminar, held every year as part of the AAAS Annual Meeting. This year’s virtual seminar included two panel sessions, one on reaching underserved audiences during a pandemic, the other on equitable community partnerships. These were followed by six different breakout sessions on topics ranging from “science zines” to the new “Broader Impacts Wizard” tool for developing engagement activities. The sessions overall had a strong theme of encouraging scientists to meaningfully engage with communities in a way that centers their interests, strengths, and needs.
Throughout its 13-year history, the AAAS Communicating Science Workshop program has offered workshops to scientists and engineers via their institutions. Institutions (which have ranged from universities to federal agencies and the military to professional societies) pay for AAAS facilitators to come to them and train a group of usually 20-50 scientists and engineers -- whether graduate students, professors, research scientists or applied scientists -- in best practices for science communication and public engagement. Now, individuals can sign up for a “AAAS-hosted” three-hour workshop at the cost of $125 per person.
AAAS is launching a project to support the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare contexts, and specifically in public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Today the project released a landscape assessment of existing public opinion work in this area compiled by a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This report summarizes what we know about public views of the use of AI in healthcare and in areas affecting the pandemic response, with an emphasis on understanding the concerns of populations most vulnerable to the negative impacts of AI technology.
One of Marques’ goals from the beginning of the AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellowship year was to better understand what human augmentation means to most people, and how he and his colleagues could increase interest in this topic and support broader engagement with it. Marques is part of the 2019-20 class of AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellows, whose scientific and public engagement work connects to the topic of human augmentation. These researchers come from a diverse range of disciplines, but they are all interested in technologies that temporarily or permanently change the capabilities of the human body. Their work varies widely, from assistive technologies and wearable sensors to tattooing and antibiotics.
As Director of Science & Technology Development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Tracey du Laney helps to bring scientific expertise and companies to North Carolina to drive life sciences research and economic development. As a 2019-20 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow, one of her goals for creating institutional change to support public engagement with science centered around “Science Club.” She and a colleague started this once-a-month event shortly before her fellowship, to enable staff members who are not scientists but who are intensely curious about science to become more comfortable learning and talking about science informally. “I wanted to help them be ambassadors for our work and the science we enable,” she says.
Kafui Dzirasa has been working hard to make the case for public engagement to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where, as a member of the advisory committee for the Brain Initiative 2.0, he is creating platforms for “scaled-up” engagement efforts to drive more ethical and responsible brain-computer interactions. Dzirasa, who holds both an M.D. and a Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and a 2019-20 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow. As he concluded in his Wired article from June 2019, “It is in humanity's hands to decide how far we will extend the boundaries of our species.”
Sometimes the research that isn’t most interesting to scientists turns out to be the most important. And Emory University chemistry professor and AAAS 2019-20 Leshner Public Engagement Fellow Bill Wuest is fine with that. His research on soaps and disinfectants, which he says, in terms of “hardcore chemistry, just isn’t that exciting,” has been in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wuest was ready to be a resource to the public in part because of the connections and preparation the AAAS fellowship offered him.
This past semester, Leia Stirling’s students at the University of Michigan developed a wide array of outreach activities for K-12 students using wearable sensors that can measure people’s motion similar to a Fitbit or Apple Watch. She asked her students to define the specific age group they were targeting, what learning objectives they were trying to achieve, and how they would assess whether they achieved their outreach goals. Some teams focused on younger kids, developing activities to describe body motions, while other teams focused on older students with topics like the physics of motion or how to represent rotations. One group created a hands-on visualization using a Rubik’s cube to describe rotations around three-dimensional axes.
Christopher Lynn didn’t start out his career in anthropology intending to study tattooing. But in 2016 when his first study on tattooing and possible positive effects on immune systems went viral, he realized there was a lot of public interest in “the science under the hood of tattooing.” Lynn says that “public engagement has built interest in the research that I do… and where their [the public’s] interests lie informs how I do research and my instincts about teaching and what appeals to people.”
Samira Kiani’s interest in art and storytelling began at a young age, when she was growing up in Iran. After starting her own lab at Arizona State University working on CRISPR gene editing technology, she saw an opportunity to connect science with these interests. There were “all these serious ethical debates, and I thought, ‘What if I made a film about this?’” Kiani says, a 2019-20 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow. Three years later, she is close to that goal, and has learned a lot about the challenges of filmmaking. Despite it being a “second full-time job,” she loves it, and her institutions (she is now an associate professor in the department of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine) have been very supportive.
In a “Bioethics and Public Policy” interview he conducted for the Future Directions podcast in October 2019, Aaron Levine described what he does as a bioethicist. At its core, it involves “thinking about ethical issues in the life sciences and healthcare.” As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, such issues have been frequently in the news related to triaging – or prioritizing – patients (and Levine recently published an op-ed in the Georgia Health News on the state’s COVID-19 data reporting issues). His focus typically is on research ethics, asking questions like, “With the conduct of stem cell research: what is appropriate, acceptable, good research, versus what might be more problematic research? How should policymakers oversee research? What impact do policies have on the conduct of science and the careers of scientists?”
One lesson Jin Kim Montclare took from her training as a AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow is the need to connect with people over commonalities. “Even with all this information, people do not necessarily act on evidence to make policies, for example. I can make the most eloquent argument, and it’s still hard to convince people. A lot of it is trying to figure out ways to say, ‘You and I are the same. We are no different from each other.’”
An April 22 Facebook Live event brought together experts to address the intersection of climate change and health and to share steps that communities and individuals can take to mitigate negative effects and build resilience.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has selected its 2020 Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows, 28 young scientists who will head to newsrooms around the country this summer for ten weeks of hands-on science reporting. The program places undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate level scientists, engineers, and mathematicians at media organizations where they write stories for radio and television, newspapers, and magazines.
As more scientists recognize science communication and public engagement as an essential part of their job, the demand for training in this area has grown, as have the types of training available and the number of training organizations. The SciComm Trainers Network just launched a public website, www.sctn.online, and will support sharing pf best practices and work toward professionalizing the field of science communication training.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, many scientists and science communicators have been asking themselves: what can I do to help? They also wonder: will this experience change the way we prepare for and respond to pandemics, including the way we fund research?
This September, nearly 100 international teams comprised of “pilots” who use assistive devices and researchers, 1100 volunteers, and thousands of spectators will converge inside a stadium in Zurich for the second-ever Cybathlon. People with physical disabilities will compete in races that demonstrate how well assistive technologies perform in everyday tasks. This Olympic-style event, which also includes a scientific symposium earlier in the week, was the dream of Robert Riener, a professor of sensory-motor systems at ETH Zurich and a AAAS 2019-20 Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellow. “I discovered that the actual needs of people with disabilities do not feed into the development of assistive technologies enough, and conversely that major research discoveries aren’t finding their way into practical application,” said Riener.
Dustin Garrick’s work addresses one of the enduring puzzles facing science and society: how and why people cooperate to resolve conflicts over shared land and water resources -- the commons -- and how to scale up innovative approaches. His current book project, Uncommon Markets: Collective Action and the Path to Prosperity, explores the role of cooperation in environmental markets for freshwater and fisheries. Such approaches, which use economic incentives to address resource scarcity, are spreading globally and billions of dollars are invested annually. This experimentation reveals that “uncommon” markets, shaped by communities and not just competition, are more common than we think.
The AAAS Communicating Science Seminar, held on Thursday, February 13, brought together approximately 350 scientists, professional science communicators, students and others interested in bridging science and society. This was the eighth time this seminar has kicked off the many sessions related to science communication and public engagement at the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting (see this event summary compiled by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology, which organizes the seminar). Both panels at the seminar encouraged scientists to ask themselves what their underlying motivations are for engaging with the public about science: why do they want people to have the information they are sharing and what do they anticipate people will do as a result of the conversation?
When Chris Scott gets involved in a research collaboration, he often looks at how it’s being set up and suggests ways to further engage stakeholders, asking questions like “how will you be sharing this with people who can use it?” and “can research design better incorporate users’ needs?” He sees this as adding value both to the research and to those it may affect. “We need to take more seriously stakeholders’ priorities as we conduct research, or better, beforehand,” he says. As a hydrologist and professor at the University of Arizona, and director of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, Scott considers the type of work he does to be “ideally suited to public engagement.” His 2018-19 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellowship was a continued exploration of his career-long focus on use-inspired science.
In April 2019, Pei Xu co-hosted a conference on water, bringing together regulators, water users and water managers from Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico to discuss strategies to address their shared challenge of drought. Xu, a professor of environmental engineering at New Mexico State University and a 2018-19 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow, had attended the first year of this conference, which was held in Texas and focused on desalination. Afterward, she asked the organizer Ed Archuleta if she could co-chair the next one with him, hold it in New Mexico, and broaden it to agricultural and water security. This turned into her biggest effort over the course of her Leshner fellowship year, and one she plans to participate in again, next time in Mexico.
Merritt Turetsky is a carbon cycle scientist. She studies thawing permafrost and how it affects the climate system. This is important because permafrost contains more than twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere. As permafrost thaws due to climate change, it releases this carbon and thereby accelerates climate change. But Turetsky says she has come to realize she “can’t just work on carbon cycling anymore. I have to work on a variety of topics that affect Northerners,” and be part of finding solutions for those impacted by thawing permafrost.
Sunshine Menezes hopes that one day, the “inclusive” part of the hashtag #InclusiveSciComm won’t be necessary -- all science communication will be inclusive by default. To bring together some of the many disparate conversations and notable work being done toward that goal, Menezes, associate professor of environmental communication at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and executive director of the Metcalf Institute, organized the first Inclusive SciComm Symposium in 2018, in collaboration with a national planning committee. It was by all accounts a big success, and the second one was recently held on September 27-29, 2019.
The University of Florida (UF) is a land grant university with a large cooperative extension service – which often finds itself in the middle of shifting cultural and economic trends and differences between the state’s rural and urban populations. Roger Kjelgren is director of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. Bridging the gap between rural and urban communities is one of his long-term public engagement goals. He wants to create interest in agriculture among the growing urban population, to help support it as an ongoing, viable industry. One way he is approaching this is through the local food movement, which is making people in urban areas “stakeholders in what they eat, how it is grown, and the impact on the environment. [Locally grown food] is a social amenity,” says Kjelgren.
Even when very busy, community engagement never really takes a backseat for Alexis Racelis. Working with farmers along the border of Texas and Mexico, Racelis helps develop and evaluate conservation agriculture practices to improve soil health, and thus increase both crop productivity and climate change benefits (through better carbon storage). “[Community engagement is] how I was trained. I do participatory action research. And in food and water security, these are issues we have to address now,” he says. “Engagement is key. It’s not necessarily something we can just do on the side… We can’t get it done unless the farmers and other stakeholders participate.”
For communities that are seeking to make decisions that integrate community knowledge and scientific evidence, community participatory modeling can be a way forward. This method entails gathering information from people involved in an issue and using computer models to build understanding of the situation and play out a variety of scenarios. In August, Laura Schmitt Olabisi from Michigan State University, Renee Wallace of FoodPlus Detroit, and others led a three-day field school for community participatory modeling in Detroit.
The AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science is seeking active researchers in the field of artificial intelligence for the fifth cohort of the Leshner Leadership Institute fellowship program. The application period is from August 1 to October 1, 2019. The program convenes a group of mid-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence and leadership in their research careers and in promoting meaningful dialogue between science and society. The selected AAAS Leshner Fellows will gather in June 2020 for a week of orientation and training at AAAS Headquarters in Washington, DC and then continue their activities while at their home institutions during the fellowship year. This includes developing and implementing high-impact public engagement related to artificial intelligence, training and mentoring other scientists in their communities, and promoting public engagement within their institutions.
Not long after Craig Just met Laura Schmitt Olabisi at orientation for their AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science fellowship, he realized his program at the University of Iowa could benefit from her work in community-based participatory modeling (she uses computer models to engage stakeholders in planning and decision-making about natural resource management). He brought her to Iowa City in October 2018 to do a workshop for his students and colleagues, using seed money provided by the fellowship. At the time, he did not anticipate how he might also contribute to her work.
Kate Brauman has long been troubled by how hard it is to communicate research findings and other updates back to the communities she and her colleagues engage with during their fieldwork. She wanted to tackle this challenge as a part of her Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement fellowship. Brauman points to an often-significant divide between what communities expect, and what researchers can actually provide, especially when it comes to the timeframes involved in research. She notes that the last paper she wrote related to her dissertation was published five years after her fieldwork ended. “It seemed crazy to share it back five years later,” she says, but in the meantime, people were left to wonder what happened with the project they had contributed to, and potentially feel somewhat negatively about it as a result.
Everyone eats. Which means food is perhaps one of the most universally-meaningful topics out there. Despite this fact, crop and agricultural scientists still struggle to connect their work with the public, says Mikey Kantar, an assistant professor of tropical plant and soil sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and a 2018-19 AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellow. So when Kantar heard about a call for breakout sessions at the 2019 AAAS Communicating Science Seminar, he decided to brainstorm with two colleagues, Ari Novy and Colin Khoury, about how their respective fields could do better. Instead of discussing an existing science communication effort, they came up with an idea for a new project and then implemented it prior to coming to Washington, DC and sharing it at their breakout session.