New Initiative Looks at How Public Views Science

After recent research revealed a perception gap between the public and scientists on a number of issues, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences launched a program to increase people’s awareness and appreciation for what scientists do.

Science touches every part of life—from health and medicine to the economy—yet the public may not always realize it.

But a new program started by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) hopes to change that. Called the Public Face of Science, the three-year initiative is designed to increase the public’s knowledge of science, as well as foster a greater appreciation for the work scientists do.

Research released by the Pew Research Center in 2015 illustrated the need for the program, said AAAS Chief Communication Officer Dave Nuscher. While polling data suggested that the public supports science and believes it has a positive impact on their lives, it also noted that there is a large opinion gap between the public and scientists across a wide range of issues.

“Successful communication relies on a clear understanding of what happens when existing views are confronted with new information,” he said. “We also know that the media plays an important role at the interface between scientists and the public, but this perception gap suggests the need for deeper dialogue and engagement—the need for which is the motivation behind the formation of the Public Face of Science project.”

Because of this, a critical component of the initiative will be a two- to three-year study on how individual beliefs and scientific comprehension affect the perception of—and trust—in the scientific process. The research will investigate such issues as how the changing media landscape affect the communication of scientific discoveries and information, how public trust in science is created, the role of science and scientists in informing public policy, and reversing the decline in public trust and support for science.

And, naturally, the program will be propelled forward by much more than “just” members of the scientific community.

“The Public Face of Science initiative will require input from several areas of the humanities, as the portrayal of science through journalism, literature, and performing arts, for example, is a key determinant of individuals’ attitudes toward science and their willingness to accept scientific conclusions,” Nuscher said.

AAAS will also draw on the expertise of science historians to understand how scientific literacy and public trust in and support for science have varied over time, how they have or have not been correlated with each other, and how they have been influenced by social and political trends.

In addition, Nuscher said AAAS is beginning to assemble a larger advisory group that will include historians, writers, anthropologists, and other humanists. They will be consulted regularly over the course of the project and will participate in project workshops and other activities.


Newton Holt

By Newton Holt

Newton Holt, a former senior editor of Associations Now, is a freelance writer, editor, and communication strategist in Washington, DC. MORE

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