2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM

Improving the Public Understanding of Science

SCOTCHMOOR, Judith G.1, LINDBERG, David R.1, CALDWELL, Roy L.1, O'GRADY, Richard2, HEHN, Jack3 and ALLISON, M. Lee4, (1)Museum of Paleontology, University of California, 1101 Valley Life Sciences Building #4780, Berkeley, CA 95476, (2)American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1444 I Street, NW · Suite 200, Washington DC, 20005, (3)American Institute of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843, (4)COPUS, Arizona Geological Survey, 416 W. Congress, #100, Tucson, AZ 85701-1381, jscotch@berkeley.edu

“Most Americans do not understand the scientific process,” nor can they distinguish between science and non-science (National Science Board, 2006). Given the impact of science on society, the lack of public understanding of science should be a concern to us all. In large part, the current confusions about evolution, global warming, stem cell research, and other aspects of science deemed by some as “controversial” are symptomatic of a general misunderstanding of what science is and what it is not. Too few of our citizens view science as a dynamic process through which we gain a reliable understanding of the natural world. As a result, the public becomes vulnerable to misinformation and the very real benefits of science become obscured.

In response, several initiatives have emerged from the science research community to engage the public and improve public understanding about how science works, why it matters, and who scientists are. Two such initiatives welcome participation from the geoscience community. (1) The Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) is a grassroots effort whose goal is to engage sectors of the public in science to increase their understanding of the nature of science and its value to society. A primary activity of COPUS is the Year of Science 2009 – a national, year-long celebration of science. (2) Coordinating with COPUS, Understanding Science is an NSF-funded, collaborative project of the University of California, Berkeley and the Museum of Paleontology. At its core is a freely accessible website that provides an accurate portrayal of how science really works and how to incorporate this process into our teaching. Unfortunately, many textbooks encourage impoverished and uninspired views of science. This project offers a new approach for K-16 teachers.