How do public science events fit into the
February 17, 2011
University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
Editor-in-Chief, Science magazine
US Science Envoy (Indonesia & Pakistan)
My education in Washington, DC
1993 to 2005
SCIENCE FOR POLICYMAKING
How the Academies work to promote the
use of science for wise decision making
I will give you three examples
No evidence that
these fields are
that very low
levels of arsenic
From the National Academies, 2010
Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human
activities, and poses significant risks for--and in many
cases is already affecting--a broad range of human and
natural systems. The compelling case for these conclusions
is provided in Advancing the Science of Climate Change,
part of a congressionally requested suite of studies known as
America's Climate Choices. While noting that there is always
more to learn and that the scientific process is never closed,
the book shows that hypotheses about climate change are
supported by multiple lines of evidence and have stood firm
in the face of serious debate and careful evaluation of
Why scientific judgments like these
are crucial for policymakers
• Science has allowed humans to gain a deep
understanding of the natural world.
• In many cases, we can therefore predict the
effects of current actions on the future.
Independent policy advice from the
• More than 200 reports a year, presenting
the scientific consensus on a policy-
85 percent requested by the US
• Full text released to the press, and to the
public on our Website, when report is
delivered to government
Full text of more than 4000 books now on-line,
accessible through powerful search engine.
SCIENCE IN EDUCATION
Three ambitious goals
Through science education
1. Enable all children to acquire the problem-solving,
thinking, and communication skills of scientists – so that
they can be productive and competitive in the new world
2. Help the world generate new scientific knowledge and
technology by casting the widest possible net for talent.
3. Generate a “scientific temper” for each nation, with
scientifically trained people in many professions,
ensuring the rationality and the tolerance essential for a
To accomplish these goals, we
must redefine what we mean by
the term “science education”
Requested by the
50 state governors,
this is what I spent
half my time on at
the US National
An emphasis on
What science should look like in school
What 5 year olds can do
1) Put on clean white socks and walk around
2) In class, collect all black specks stuck to socks
and try to classify them: which are seeds and
which are dirt?
3) Start by examining each speck with a 3 dollar,
4) End by planting both those specks believed to
be dirt and those believed to be seeds, thereby
testing their own idea that the regularly shaped
ones are seeds.
Imagine an education that includes solving hundreds of
challenges over the course of the 13 years of schooling that
lead to high school graduation – challenges that increase in
difficulty as the children age. Outstanding curricula of this type
already exist, having been developed and refined in the United
States for 50 years.
I believe that children who are prepared for life in this way
would be great problem solvers in the workplace, with the
abilities and the can-do attitude that are needed to be
competitive in the global economy.
Even more important, they will also be more
rational human beings – people who are able to
make wise judgments for their family, their
community, and their nation.
A lesson from the climate debates
Most Americans have never met a scientist, and despite
having been “taught science” at school, most have no real idea
of how a scientific consensus is reached through continuous
open debate and experiment.
Responsible challenges to a consensus help science advance.
Thus, adults should expect to find some scientists who disagree
with the scientific consensus on an issue.
But they should appreciate why a strong scientific consensus,
such as that about climate change, must form the basis for
making wise personal and community decisions, representing
by far the best bet for predicting the future consequences
of present actions.
Urgently needed: broader goals for all
introductory college science courses
Every adult should have a base of scientific understanding
about how the world works. But understanding the process
through which scientific knowledge develops is equally
By the end of any introductory college science class—which
can be an adult’s final exposure to science—a student should
have a realistic understanding of the nature of science.
My most important take-home lesson
from 12 years in Washington
Science is much more important
than most scientists think!
It is critically important that science, and
scientists, achieve a much higher degree of
influence throughout both their nations and
• This is important for the success of each
• It is also important for building a better world.
Important to remember
“The society of scientists is simple because it has a
directing purpose: to explore the truth. Nevertheless,
it has to solve the problem of every society, which is
to find a compromise between the individual and the
group. It must encourage the single scientist to be
independent, and the body of scientists to be tolerant.
From these basic conditions, which form the prime
values, there follows step by step a range of values:
dissent, freedom of thought and speech, justice,
honor, human dignity and self respect.
Science has humanized our values. Men have
asked for freedom, justice and respect precisely as
the scientific spirit has spread among them.”
Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values, 1956