So, Alan Alda, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, a Nobel Laureate and the Science Cheerleader walk into a room…

…and, together, we kick off the World Science Festivalthis morning at Columbia University during a world-class Science Summit. Really, no joke! I’m included among the “125 leaders from science, business, government, media, and academia who will explore how today’s scientific discoveries will shape tomorrow.” (Columbia’s homepage news.)

(I did have to squirrel my way into this invitation. Finally, the old cheerleading uniform came in handy.)

“The 21st century will be shaped by science,” said Brian Greene, co-founder of the World Science Festival and professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. “From the enormous challenges we face and opportunities we have available, science will be the critical driver. To make informed decisions, we need a general public that is not put off by science; rather, the public needs to be excited by science and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.”

The Festival seeks to transform the public perception of science by producing high caliber, entertaining and thought-provoking programs–for five days throughout New York City–that make science exciting, accessible, compelling, and inspirational. That’s Brian’s stated goal for the World Science Festival. A terrific goal and one we should all support.  

I hope I have an opportunity to share some thoughts with Brian and the 123 other leaders in the room. Engaging the public in science is critical and helps us make better decisions, particularly when it comes to science policy decisions. But we need authentic opportunities to inject our values and opinions into important discussions of science and science policy.  Let the public, us, displace the lobbyists. Scientists and policy makers can and should do more to trust the public’s desire and capacity to participate in real science activities and discussions. I’ll bring the empirical data with me just in case they don’t believe me.

Speaking of trust, if they haven’t already yanked the mic from my hands, I might suggest that we need more reasons to trust science in spite of the recent abuses by government and industry–and some scientists–covered in this book which I’ve read, and this new one I have yet to read, among many other publications. Depressing stuff, really.

Let’s move back to the happier, more optimistic approach, shall we? The World Science Festival!

I am hopeful Brian can generate enough support from the very public he is aiming to inspire, to help him rattle the old dog–the old model of scientists, lobbyists and government locked behind closed doors to determine important science policy–and motivate all involved to create a transparent and inclusive, forward-thinking science policy process. A process that trusts the voice of the citizen. Let’s hear those voices!

Not sure where to start or what to say? If you’re in the NYC area this week, find your voice at any one of the 40 public events of the World Science Festival beginning Thursday, May 29 through June 1.
If you go, report back about your experience! I’ll be sure to post highlights from the kick off Summit right here.

There’s another way to voice your opinion, of course. Sign the Science Cheerleader’s petition to reopen the Office of Technology Assessment, a terrific nonpartisan legislative office that provided sound science policy advice to Congress.  “Hey, hey! What do you say? Let’s reopen the OTA!”

Cheers!