We live in a society where science is central to policy decisions around complex issues and is therefore often politicized. For example, policy discussion around climate change mirrors a large disconnect between scientific consensus and public perception; while there is a 97% consensus among climate scientists that anthropogenic climate change is a reality, only 47% of Americans believe in the science. There are also a sharp partisan divide over the issue, which is influenced by political and economic stakeholders who want the science on their side. While climate change is a well-known example of the need for more effective science communication, there are many other important issues where this is the case: genetic modification, the effects of prenatal drugs, and environmental toxins. This has profound effects on the well-being and sustainability of our society and environment.
To understand the depth of the problem our society faces in communicating science and to discuss potential solutions for systemic change, the annual Wellesley Communicating Science Symposium brings together scientists, journalists, and activists for a day of dialogue and problem-solving. Since 2010, our Communicating Science symposia have brought together several hundred people from Wellesley, surrounding universities, and the Boston community to discuss the complexities around communicating science to policy makers and the public. Previous keynote speakers have included Elizabeth Grossman, James Hansen, and Matthew Nisbet. Panelists have included Environmental Health Services journalist Wendy Hessler, Wellesley College President Kim Bottomly, and many others.
The 2014 Communicating Science Symposium seeks to address issues relating to communicating environmental health and biotechnology research to the public and policy makers. Terms like “genetically modified organism” have become taboo, as many people associate these modern technologies as harmful to the environment and risks to human health. The symposium will address challenges to communicating the science behind these complex issues to the public and policy makers. Professor Rita Colwell, a renowned environmental microbiologist at the University of Maryland at College Hill, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and long-time director of the National Science Foundation, will be our keynote on the subject. Following her address, a panel featuring speakers from the biotech industry, journalists, and environmental health advocates will further the dialogue on communicating the science of biotechnology. An afternoon networking session showcasing student research from schools in the Boston area will extend the day’s conversation to practical applications, giving students agency and direction in their own scientific pursuits. The symposium will provide a useful forum for the pursuit of solutions to communicating science and the education of students and the general public.