ASBMB Responds to NIH Request for Comments on Science Education Strategic Planning

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The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has responded to a request for information from the National Institutes of Health regarding strategic planning for the Office of Science Education and the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, both located within the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs.

ASBMB is supportive of the types of programs supported by SEPA that “promote and improve the scientific training of pre-kindergarten to grade 12 (P-12) teachers, students, and the general public.” However, given such a potentially broad scope, we urge NIH to come up with a more-clearly defined mission and distinct goals for the SEPA program, so that its efforts are maximally effective. In addition, given the relatively small budget with which SEPA operates, ASBMB recommends that the SEPA program work with other programs within NIH, as well as external stakeholders within other federal agencies, state and local governments, and private organizations, to coordinate and streamline overlapping efforts, in order to minimize redundancy.

ASBMB encourages its members to submit their own responses. The RFI is open until March 16, so use this link to submit your own feedback before then.

You can read the full response from ASBMB here.

A BIONIC Community

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Following up on the successful 2014 Broader Impacts Summit held this past April, the National Science Foundation this week officially announced that funding has been approved for the Broader Impacts and Outreach Network for Institutional Collaboration (BIONIC) project, which aims to “create a community of practice that fosters the development of sustainable and scalable institutional capacity for and engagement in broader impacts activity.”

The key word in that description is “community,” a point that was emphasized repeatedly during the Broader Impacts Summit. The BIONIC organizers are strongly encouraging input and feedback from those scientists, researchers and educators who are interested in, involved with, or in any way impacted by Broader Impacts.

If you are interested in participating in the BIONIC network, start by signing up for the BIONIC listserv to join the national Broader Impacts discussion:

  • Send a new email to listserv@po.missouri.edu with a blank subject line
  • Delete EVERYTHING from your email (make sure you take out your signature line as well!) except this text:  Subscribe BROADERIMPACTSSUMMIT-L

ASBMB has signed on as on official collaborator for the project, so we will be working closely with the organizers as they build and expand the BIONIC network. Feel free to reach out to us at outreach@asbmb.org with your suggestions!

Away From the Numbers

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The public wants what the public gets/But I don’t get what this society wants

-The Jam, “Going Underground”

 

Science and Engineering Indicators 2014Earlier this year, the National Science Board released the 2014 version of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report, detailing trends within the STEM community. In addition to data about STEM degrees, patents, and research budgets, the Indicators include a chapter on public attitudes and understanding of science and technology, providing an intriguing look at how the scientific community and its efforts are viewed by the general public.

First, the good news: people generally have positive views of scientists. 41 percent of Americans surveyed expressed “a great deal of confidence” in scientific leaders, ranking them second only to military leadership, ahead of members of the Supreme Court and (not surprisingly) politicians. Four of five of those surveyed would be happy if their child became a scientist, and over 80 percent indicated some level of interest in science.

Less encouraging are the statistics showing what the public understands about science. Fewer than half of those surveyed feel that they have a solid understanding of what scientists actually do, and 50 percent of respondents “strongly agree” or “agree” with the idea that scientific work is dangerous. Furthermore, in spite of the increase in both formal and informal efforts focusing on enhancing science education, knowledge about scientific concepts seems not to have increased very much over the past few decades, with respondents answering fewer than six out of nine questions about science correctly.

Science and Engineering Indicators: Figure 7-6

These data echo an oft-heard complaint from those within the scientific community that the public doesn’t “get” science. Countless hours have been spent, and volumes of words have been spilled, pondering what can be done to increase public understanding of science. Perhaps a better question for the scientific community to ask instead is, what does the public actually want from scientists? Should we assume that they want to hear what scientists have to say, or that they want to know more about science?

Maybe, instead of dogmatically telling the public what they should know, the scientific community should spend some time figuring what the public wants to know. As several recent discussions have emphasized, effective science communication, on which successful outreach relies, necessarily requires a two-way dialogue. Maybe, instead of trying to make sure that everyone everywhere knows everything about science, we should listen to those who have argued that instead of striving for universal public scientific literacy, science outreach efforts should focus their energy on generating public appreciation for, and awareness of, science.

Maybe then, the next version of the Science and Engineering Indicators will provoke less angst about what the numbers say, and more introspection about what people actually say.