Science Policy For All

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Posts Tagged ‘scientific training

Science Policy Around the Web – August 25, 2017

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By: Rachel F Smallwood, PhD

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Science policy

US science envoy cites Trump policies in a public resignation

The US Department of State houses the US Science Envoy Program, designed to allow accomplished US scientists to represent the country’s interests and goals in science and technology. These envoys engage international representatives, advocate for institutions, endorse science education and its importance, and advise the government on scientific matters. On August 21, 2017, in a letter to President Trump, Professor Daniel Kammen resigned his position as envoy. His focus in the program was on “building capacity for renewable energies.”

In his open letter to the president, he cited Trump’s leadership and policy decisions as his factors for leaving. He condemned Trump’s reluctance to call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He also stated that the president’s refusal of the Paris Climate Accord in addition to denial and undermining of environmental and energy research could not allow him to continue his position in good conscience. The first letter of each paragraph in the document spelled out the word “impeach.” He ends dramatically by asserting that Trump’s presidency is harmful to the United States and “threatens life on this planet.”

It is no secret that the scientific community has serious concerns regarding the Trump administration’s views of and plans for scientific policy and research. This past April a March for Science was held on Earth Day with the intention of demonstrating the importance of science and the amount of support it garners. There has also been worry and discussion over what the administration’s recommendations will be for prioritizing funding for scientific research.

Professor Kammen’s resignation highlights a struggle for scientists in his position. For an administration that does not seem to appreciate the gravity of scientific matters such as climate, energy, and health research, there seems to be an important need for knowledgeable and experienced advisors to help them. However, when those experts’ advice is not heeded, and when the administration takes a stance that the experts are opposed to, it is difficult for them to continue. While resignations in these kinds of positions often seem to have a domino effect, at least one envoy is planning to remain in his position, and the state department confirmed it is in the process of appointing more.

(Jeff Tollefson, Nature)

Scientific Training

NSF issues a reminder that grant-winning universities should be formally training students in ethics

The National Science Foundation recently posted a notice reminding universities and research institutions of their responsibilities in teaching their trainees about ethical research practices. In 2007, the US Congress passed the America COMPETES Act, which requires institutions applying for funding from the NSF to show that they are educating their students and trainees on good science and ethical practices. The NSF enacted this by implementing the Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR) requirement; however, they only gave vague guidelines, allowing institutions flexibility in executing this training. In 2010, they did recommend that institutions incorporate a risk assessment to determine the needs for training.

In 2013, the NSF’s Office of the Inspector General published an independent report on compliance with the RCR requirements. There were several areas where institutions were falling short. Almost a quarter of the schools had no training at all when first contacted, and no schools conducted risk assessments. Additionally, a substantial portion of the universities that did having training implemented went with a minimalist approach, only have a short, online course. However, not all of the blame can be placed on the institutions. The America COMPETES Act did stipulate that the NSF should create written guidelines or templates for institutions to follow in implementing these trainings.

Despite the RCR requirements’ failure to induce institutions to provide satisfactory training in ethical science, the NSF has reiterated the importance that universities and institutions comply with providing this training. At a time when facts are being called “fake news” and leaders are making statements and decisions against scientific consensus, it is more important than ever that young scientists learn to conduct sound, ethical science and interpret it in honest and realistic ways. While it is good that the NSF is encouraging this, many hope that in the future they will take a more proactive and forceful stance in enforcing it.

(Jeffrey Mervis, Science)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

August 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

Science For All – Effective Science Communication and Public Engagement

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By: Agila Somasundaram, PhD

Image: By Scout [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

         In 1859, Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, laying the foundation for the theory of evolution through natural selection. Yet more than 150 years after that discovery and despite a large volume of scientific evidence supporting it, only 33% of the American population believes that humans evolved solely through natural processes. 25% of US adults believe that a supreme being guided evolution, and 34% reject evolution completely, saying that humans and all other forms of life have co-existed forever. Similarly, only 50% of American adults believe that global climate change is mostly due to human activity, with 20% saying that there is no evidence for global warming at all. A significant fraction of the public believes that there is large disagreement among scientists on evolution and climate change (the reality being there is overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus), and questions scientists’ motivations. Public skepticism about scientific evidence and scientists extends to other areas such as vaccination and genetically-modified foods.

Public mistrust in the scientific enterprise has tremendous consequences, not only for federal science funding and the advancement of science, but also for the implementation of effective policies to improve public and global health and combat issues such as global warming. In her keynote address at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, Dr. Jane Lubchenko described the Science-Society ParadoxScientists need society, and society needs science. How then can we build public support for science, and improve public trust in scientists and scientific evidence?

Scientists need to be more actively involved in science outreach and public engagement efforts. Communicating science in its entirety, not just as sensational news, requires public understanding of science, and familiarity with the scientific process – its incremental nature, breakthrough discoveries (that don’t necessarily mean a cure), failures, and limitations alike. Who better to explain that to the public than scientists – skilled professionals who are at the center of the action? In a recent poll, more than 80% of Americans agree that scientists need to interact more with the public and policymakers. But two major hurdles need to be overcome.

Firstly, communicating science to the public is not easy. Current scientific training develops researchers to communicate science in written and oral formats largely to peers. As scientists become more specialized in their fields, technical terms and concepts (jargon) that they use frequently may be incomprehensible to non-experts (even to scientists outside their field). The scientific community would benefit tremendously from formal training in public engagement. Such training should be incorporated into early stages of professional development, including undergraduate and graduate schools. Both students and experienced scientists should be encouraged to make use of workshops and science communication opportunities offered by organizations such as AAAS, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and iBiology, to name a few. Secondly, federal funding agencies and philanthropic organizations should provide resources, and academic institutions should create avenues and incentives, for scientists to engage with the public. Both students and scientists should be allowed time away from their regular responsibilities to participate in public outreach efforts. Instead of penalizing scientists for popularizing science, scientists’ outreach efforts should be taken into consideration during promotion, grants and tenure decisions, and exceptional communicators rewarded. Trained scientist-communicators will be able to work better with their institutions’ public relations staff and science journalists to disseminate their research findings more accurately to a wider audience, and educate the public about the behind-the-scenes world of science that is rarely ever seen outside. Engaging with the public could also benefit researchers directly by increasing their scientific impact, and influence research directions to better impact society.

While increasing science outreach programs and STEM education may seem like obvious solutions, the science of science communication tells us that it is not so simple. The goals of science communication are diverse – they range from generating or sharing scientific excitement, increasing knowledge in a particular topic, understanding public’s concerns, to actually influencing people’s attitudes towards broader science policy issues. Diverse communication goals target a diverse audience, and require an assortment of communicators and communication strategies. Research has shown that simply increasing the public’s scientific knowledge does not help accomplish these various communication goals. This is because people don’t solely rely on scientific information to make decisions; they are influenced by their personal needs, experiences, values, and cultural identity, including their political, ideological or religious affiliations. People also tend to adopt shortcuts when trying to comprehend complex scientific information, and believe more in what aligns with their pre-existing notions or with the beliefs of their social groups, and what they hear repeatedly from influential figures, even if incorrect. Effective science communication requires identifying, understanding and overcoming these and other challenges.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened two meetings of scientists and science communicators, one in 2012 to gauge the state of the art of research on science communication, and another in 2013 to identify gaps in our understanding of science communication. The resulting research agenda outlines important questions requiring further research. For example, what are the best strategies to engage with the public, and how to adapt those methods for multiple groups, without directly challenging their beliefs or values? What are effective ways to communicate science to policymakers? How do we help citizens navigate through misinformation in rapidly changing internet and social media? How to assess the effectiveness of different science communication strategies? And lastly, how do we build the science communication research enterprise? Researchers studying communication in different disciplines, including the social sciences, need to come together and partner with science communicators to translate that research into practice. The third colloquium in this series will be held later this year.

Quoting Dr. Dan Kahan of Yale University, “A central aim of the science of science communication is to protect the value of what is arguably our society’s greatest asset…Modern science.” As evidence-based science communication approaches are being developed further, it is critical that scientists make scientific dialogue a priority, and make use of existing resources to effectively engage with the public – meet people where they are – and bring people a step closer to science – why each person should care – so that ‘post-truth’ doesn’t go from being merely the word of the year to a scary new way of life.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 22, 2017 at 11:27 pm