Society needs science, and scientists need an informed, thoughtful, and open-minded citizenry. Thus, the obvious dependence of American society on science is strikingly inconsistent with the low level of scientific literacy among U. S. citizens. By establishing 2009 as the "Year of Science," professional scientific organizations and grassroots, citizens-for-science groups hope to bring a renewed and invigorated focus on the importance of science now and in the future. As knowledge experts and educators, practicing scientists are key players in advancing the scientific literacy agenda.
As part of its 2008 annual meeting, the Botanical Society of America (BSA) organized a symposium to help inform attendees about the issues involved in scientific literacy as well as the progress achieved toward the goal of obtaining a public that is better informed and more accepting of scientific achievements and science in general. There were five presentations during the symposium: Marshall Sundberg discussed the PlantingScience initiative developed by the BSA (www.PlantingScience.org), Gordon Uno showed how developing botanical literacy among our students can contribute to scientific literacy, Judith Scotchmoor illustrated how she and her colleagues have developed educational outreach and resources for helping teachers teach the process of science to their students, and Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele each discussed different aspects of science communication and the public.
Papers based on these presentations will be published in the October issue of the American Journal of Botany and will remain free for viewing. All of the papers--including the introduction by Christopher Haufler and Marshall Sundberg (http://www.
In his contribution, Gordon Uno (http://www.
Judith Scotchmoor and her colleagues Anastasia Thanukos and Sheri Potter (online soon at http://www.
Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele (http://www.
Taken together, this set of papers captures current issues about the public understanding of science, illustrates why greater emphasis on helping students understand and appreciate the process of science is so important, and provides insights and perspectives on what all practicing scientists can do to build a more receptive audience. It appears that in some respects academic scientists are contributing to the problem because we tend to teach content (facts about biology) rather than process (how to learn about biology). We need to help our students understand how scientists actually do our work, and we should learn about the social dynamics involved with scientific communication. Each of the papers presents different elements of making us more aware of the challenges we face, better prepared to help our students appreciate and learn about science, and in general enhancing our capacity to change the future. Practicing scientists should be active participants in making sure that scientific literacy improves for new generations of students.
The full articles in the links mentioned are available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary at http://www.
The Botanical Society of America (www.botany.org) is a non-profit membership society with a mission to promote botany, the field of basic science dealing with the study and inquiry into the form, function, development, diversity, reproduction, evolution, and uses of plants and their interactions within the biosphere. It has published the American Journal of Botany (www.amjbot.org) for nearly 100 years. In 2009, the Special Libraries Association named the American Journal of Botany one of the Top 10 Most Influential Journals of the Century in the field of Biology and Medicine.
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