I got the opportunity about a month or so ago to talk with Dr. Neal Lane ahead of his speech at N.C. State about the future of science in America. A molecular physicist who served as National Science Foundation director in 1993 and as President Bill Clinton’s science adviser in 1998, he had some really unique insight about the history of science and the challenges scientists will face going forward.
One of those challenges, as he made abundantly clear, was communicating with the public.
An edited version of the Q&A was published in The Charlotte Observer, but I thought it would be worthwhile to post a more complete portion of the conversation I found most interesting: that scientists must embrace the Web to help translate science to the public.
It’s important for the science community to find ways to reach out to the public, and probably the most effective way already today, but certainly over the next decade, is the Internet.
Surveys show that when people want to know something specific about science, or probably anything else, they go to the Internet. Most people get their news from the television, but when they want to follow up on something, they go to the Internet.
Now the Internet has all kinds of information, but it doesn’t sift things very well. So you can find all kinds of stuff on the Internet. If you know something about what you’re looking for, you can sort that out for yourself, but if you don’t, you’re really starting from scratch and it’s very difficult.
I think scientists and organizations that they are involved with will need to give a lot more attention to the Internet and how blogs are used and who writes for them and how the public reads them. A lot of social science, a lot of behavioral science needs to be done to help the rest of us understand how best to communicate people in this information age.
Luckily, there are a lot of scientists who are already taking Lane’s advice — especially here in the Triangle.
The ScienceOnline conference, the creation of Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker, is dedicated to showcasing and discussing the best ways to use the Web to promote science understanding. One of the things I’ve found most valuable is its ability to create an ongoing discussion between scientists, science communicators and science journalists about this shared goal.
What do you think? How can these three groups work to more effectively use the Web to promote science literacy? Which ones do you think are doing the best job?