Communicating Science to Build Trust
AAAS works to build bridges between science and the many communities, professional groups and organizations that make up our society. If they all can engage closely, the benefits yielded by scientific information and advancement can be maximized, even where science communication is difficult.
Reaching Out to Religious Communities
Science for Seminaries, a project of AAAS’ Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (otherwise known as DoSER) and the Association of Theological Schools, helped eight Christian seminaries from around the country begin integrating science and technology with their curricula. The objective of Science for Seminaries is to prepare their students — future priests and ministers — to emerge as clergy ready to address such issues as genetics, CRISPR gene editing, astronomy and neuroscience with their congregations.
Seminaries that participate pledge to incorporate science into at least two core courses and to hold at least one science-themed, campuswide event. All the schools that have participated since 2014 have gone beyond those requirements. Thanks to generous support from the John Templeton Foundation, 10 seminaries that participated in a three-year pilot program ending in 2017 reworked a total of 110 courses and held 76 campus events. Science for Seminaries provides the schools with subscriptions to Science, short films designed to initiate classroom discussion and other resources. In addition, a gift from Leslie Sternlieb is helping select seminaries build timely climate science content into their core curriculum and expanding DoSER’s reach to Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Jewish and Muslim communities.
DoSER Director Jennifer Wiseman said most people in U.S. society “identify with a religious perspective or community and see the world, including science and technology, through that lens. This project meets people where they are most comfortable and fosters good relationships with the empirical knowledge that affects every aspect of our lives.”
Supporting Journalists Who Bring Science to the Public
SciLine, an editorially independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit service that connects journalists and scientists, continued with its goal of getting more validated scientific information into the news.
Throughout the year, SciLine assisted journalists with quick connections to scientist sources, broadcast interview opportunities, media briefings with experts, free videos and transcripts, and background science explainers to provide trustworthy facts and context.
Never before seeming so critical as during the pandemic, the service pivoted quickly to concentrate on helping journalists covering COVID-19. With support from the Quadrivium Foundation, along with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Google News Initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Leo Model Foundation, the Sapere Aude Fund, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Zakaria Family Foundation, and others, SciLine focused on the many issues surrounding COVID-19 and provided a multifaceted set of resources on the virus and its implications, access to health experts, and related virtual media briefings.
Scientists also benefited from the service, finding a means to expand the reach of their research and insights by being connected with journalists as well as by getting tips and training for communicating effectively with the media.
Leshner Leadership Institute Focuses on Artificial Intelligence
The 2020 cohort of fellows at AAAS’ Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science — named in honor of AAAS’ CEO emeritus — were researchers studying applications and implications of various types of artificial intelligence. The mid-career scientists and engineers were selected to strengthen their engagement with the public by creating new opportunities to do so, such as through public events, online outreach, or building relationships with policymakers and community leaders.
Each cohort represents a common area of study. The 12 fellows in the 2020 cohort work in a range of AI specialties, such as deep learning and robotics, and apply AI in a number of fields, including education, health care and security.
One of the fellows, Heather Lynch, uses satellite imagery and AI-powered monitoring tools to remotely study penguins in Antarctica.
Another fellow, John Zimmerman, decided at the beginning of his fellowship to devote himself to helping designers understand AI so they can leverage its capabilities in their innovations. Designers represent an audience he had not previously considered a target for engagement.
Fellow Lyle Ungar is planning conversations with leaders in health care about technology, AI and the challenges of information-sharing and privacy — an area that can often be perceived as scary or confusing and where engagement is therefore needed.
“I think a lot of people have this fear that their privacy will be violated in ways that are not technologically possible,” he said.
Fostering Public Dialogue About Science
AAAS Communicating Science Workshops help scientists and engineers engage with diverse audiences, taking into account popular attitudes and concerns about critical issues and emphasizing mutual listening and dialogue.
Successful two-way communication with the public can advance science and serve society, but developing the tools to conduct it is not always easy. Using methods based on the latest science communication research, the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology has offered more than 450 workshops and other events to more than 15,000 scientists and engineers worldwide.
One of the workshop modules, Engaging Communities in Climate Conversations, offers a path to engaging in conversations about climate change with a focus on impacts and solutions. Participants are guided through a series of steps in order to develop messages that will resonate with particular audiences. Working from AAAS’ 2019 How We Respond climate change multimedia stories, report and website, the module analyzes real-world examples of communities using scientific information to adapt to climate change impacts.