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Science  28 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6178, pp. 1447-1448
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6178.1447

28 March 2014

Edited by Kathy Wren


AAAS Speakers Seek Ways to Expand Science Communication

Finding their audience.

Danielle Lee (above) and Alan Alda said that scientists must be sensitive to the diverse backgrounds and viewpoints of the people they seek to communicate with.


CHICAGO — At the AAAS Annual Meeting, actor and Stony Brook University professor Alan Alda delivered a slew of punchlines about ways for scientists to get "beyond a blind date" with the public. But his concluding remarks hit a more serious note. "If you want commitment, you're going to have to listen to each other," he said. "If we want commitment to take place, we're going to have to get aware of what's happening in the other person's mind."

The critical need for science communication was a theme found throughout the 2014 meeting, which drew more than 7000 scientists, educators, journalists, and students from nearly 60 countries. In symposia and workshops, participants discussed ways to expand engagement with the public, including reaching out to groups that sometimes stand apart from science's mainstream.

Evangelical Christians in the United States are one such group, but new survey results released at the meeting suggest that the relationship between evangelicals and the scientific community may be less combative than is commonly portrayed. Among more than 10,000 people in the study, nearly half of the evangelicals surveyed said they felt science and religion were in a collaborative rather than confrontational relationship. And nearly a third of survey participants said they were very interested in new scientific discoveries.

AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) commissioned the survey as part of a multiyear project that will include several regional workshops and a 2015 national workshop that will bring together leaders from local science and evangelical communities, according to DoSER Director Jennifer Wiseman. "There are a lot of commonalities between much of what religious communities are interested in about science and what scientists are also interested in," Wiseman said, "and that often involves science and technology for the improvement of life."

Minority communities may feel underserved by current science and technology engagement efforts, said Danielle N. Lee, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University and a blogger for Scientific American. At the meeting's seminar on communicating science, Lee noted that publications in the ethnic minority press rarely have science sections or dedicated science reporters. She suggested that social media might be a better alternative for reaching African Americans and Latinos. "Because [science] is not universal, you have to find the language to communicate with different audiences."

This type of outreach affects the views that people in minority communities have of scientists, Lee said, and those views translate into classrooms and the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce.

Whether told via social media or at more formal events, scientists' personal stories also can be an important source of encouragement for students and early-career researchers from underrepresented groups. At the meeting's standing-room-only Women and Minority Scientists Networking Breakfast, organized by AAAS Education and Human Resources, several participants gave examples of how hearing other minority scientists describe their own struggles had encouraged them to persevere. "Keep telling your stories, because you never know who you may be inspiring," one graduate student urged the others in the room.

Other meeting speakers, including former AAAS President Phillip A. Sharp, emphasized the need for better communication between scientists to improve research itself. In his address to open the Chicago meeting, Sharp, who is now chair of the AAAS Board, said that biological and physical scientists and engineers must learn how to communicate and work collaboratively to produce the sort of interdisciplinary projects that will be "the blueprint for future innovations."


AAAS Launches Strategic Transformation for the 21st Century

AAAS has embarked on a far-reaching effort to make the robust organization even stronger, by enhancing its engagement with its members and enabling the Science family of journals to provide leadership in science communication in the dynamic, multimedia landscape of the future.

"From every perspective, AAAS is in great shape, but every organization needs to periodically evaluate its role going forward. For the last 2 years, the AAAS Board of Directors has been engaged in a long-term strategic planning process, the goal of which is to position AAAS to remain strong for many years to come," said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science.

The initiative arose from an understanding that the AAAS of the future must reflect the seismic shifts under way in how science functions and interfaces with society.

"Communication among scientists is changing rapidly, and Science and other communication venues of tomorrow will be quite different. Similarly, members will engage with AAAS in new ways. It is wonderful that AAAS is moving into this new world from a position of excellence and financial strength," said Phillip Sharp, chair of the AAAS Board of Directors and Institute Professor at the Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

AAAS has surveyed current and prospective members, as well as customers of its many programs, to learn how the association can best serve them. While the core mission and goals of AAAS will stay the same, the surveys pointed in two new directions: moving away from print-centric publishing to serving as a multimedia communication organization, and better engaging with and providing a wider array of useful services to members and to the broader society interested in science.

AAAS has already initiated internal reorganizations to expand its digital capabilities under the direction of Robert Covey, in the newly created position of digital media officer. Covey will work in concert with Science's editor-in-chief Marcia McNutt and others to develop a vibrant, multiplatform experience for the Science family of journals, including a refreshment of their design. In addition, AAAS will launch a new, online platform through which anyone in the scientific community can gather to engage on any topic of interest, regardless of discipline, affiliation, or geography.

Science policy and advocacy is another area in which the organization will strengthen and expand engagement with its membership. "The feedback we've gotten from members is that they want AAAS to take a more visible role in speaking up for science, both on the Hill and in the public commons," said Joanne Carney, director of the Office of Government Relations. In a survey that produced 3300 responses, over 80% of respondents felt that it was very important for AAAS to advocate more for science, technology, mathematics, and engineering in the policy arena.

AAAS has long had a strong science advocacy presence, but will expand it significantly. Its latest efforts have included protecting the integrity of science from distortion and misuse, championing adequate federal funding for research and development, presenting the science that underpins a range of policy issues such as climate change, and addressing the importance of teaching evolution. AAAS will develop approaches that allow members to take part in these efforts, focusing on federal policy with secondary efforts at the state level.

Career advice and support also came in as a top priority for members. Under the new initiative, AAAS/Science will work to become a "one-stop shop" for all nondisciplinary career development.

At least 50 different career-related projects are currently active across the association, including offerings from Science, Science Careers, MemberCentral, Education and Human Resources, the Center for Public Engagement With Science and Technology, and other programs, but they will be enhanced and integrated, with a focus on member needs and scaling for wider use, said Bill Moran, director of global collaboration and custom publishing and leader of a taskforce on these new program approaches. While many of the current services are particularly useful to postdoctoral researchers in search of permanent positions, AAAS also will become a resource for members at all stages of their careers, providing support "from before their first job all the way to their last job," Moran said.

Input is welcome and can be sent to aleshner{at}

Kids Get Their Hands on Science at Family Science Days


CHICAGO — Over 3300 children and adults from across Chicagoland came to Family Science Days at the AAAS Annual Meeting, where they explored robots, giant bubbles, endangered animal pelts, and much more. Free and open to the public, Family Science Days featured hands-on demonstrations, shows, and other activities appropriate for K-12 children and their families. "A little girl told us that she 'played so much science,' which is a nice way to describe our desired effect," said Jeanne Braha, public engagement manager at AAAS.

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