X2 Project: Now YOU can help forecast the future of science

The X2 Project, sponsored by the National Academies and the Department of Defense.  An opportunity to play with the big boys!

The creators of the X2 Project, a collaborative forecasting experiment, understand the future is shaped by all of us. The old model–small groups of rocket scientists, CEOs and politicians determining our future–is crumbling. That’s a good thing because that model eroded public trust and contributed to the current, incestuous state-of-affairs when it comes to science policy (and science education, one could argue).

Get to the good stuff, you say? Ok! 

I asked X2 Project’s founder, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, to give us the low-down on this wild experiment. Here are highlights of our chat. Note: You’ve got to log on and participate! I did. Such fun and I’ve earned three points so far. Log on, you’ll understand.

Science Cheerleader:  Kindly summarize the project in terms I can understand.

Alex:  This is an effort to forecast the future of science and innovation: what new ideas or research areas are going to impact our future; where is this most likely to occur in the world; what will future scientists–researchers, entrepreneurs, independent scientists or citizen scientists–think about their prospects and the future of science.

SC:  Why can’t you just call a professor at MIT and ask him for this information, like they did in the good old days?

Alex: Because we live in a different world which is increasingly changing from the bottom-up, so to speak. Today, so-called citizen scientists, people from all walks of life, can use scientific instruments to monitor everything from rainfall to rainforest destruction and high school students can manipulate DNA. Science is more accessible now than anytime in recent history.

SC: GO!!  How can the X2 Project benefit me, I mean, society?

Alex: At the broadest level, society benefits by better understanding the futures it has to choose from. Everything we do as individuals or as members of a community affects the future; but too often we either don’t think about what our actions could mean, or don’t have the information to fully explore the consequences of our choices.  More specifically, X2’s benefits could come in a few forms. For our sponsors (the National Academies and the Department of Defense), it’s a chance to get a handle on big trends and disruptions that could be important in the future, with an eye towards making smarter policy. For scientists, I hope it can turn into a resource they can turn to when making big career decisions. And for the general public, it’ll be a place to contribute to and think about the social and economic impacts of scientific trends.

SC: How can we participate? And, it’s free and easy, right?

Alex: Yes it is. And there are a couple of ways you and your audience can get involved. First, we are always looking for “signals” or things that are happening in the sciences that people think are the leading edge of important new trends or disruptions. Anyone can become a member of X2 and add signals.  We are also organizing a series of online games exploring different possible futures for science. These are open to anyone. In fact, the more varied perspectives we get, the better the game.  People who are really enthusiastic, or have a good eye for interesting trends, can become more deeply involved in the project by writing forecasts, participating in mapping workshops, etc

And, here’s my favorite reply from Alex: I think what we’re creating here is a platform that could have uses we haven’t yet imagined, by people we haven’t thought about–teachers, journalists, advocates–anyone who wants to participate and who could benefit from having access to tools that help them think more systematically about their future.

Now that’s teamwork in science! Cheers.

  • maryann

    Great website. I have nephews that are very interested in science, and I would like to see their interest continue as they get into their teen years. It would be great to see the addition of perhaps a portion of your website devoted to teen and preteen audience to sustain their interest and develop their understanding of science policy issues. Any thoughts?

  • maryann

    Great website. I have nephews that are very interested in science, and I would like to see their interest continue as they get into their teen years. It would be great to see the addition of perhaps a portion of your website devoted to teen and preteen audience to sustain their interest and develop their understanding of science policy issues. Any thoughts?

  • Lauren

    Maryann,
    It’s definitely a challenge keeping teens interested in Science, especially with the extra-curricular activities and technology this generation has at their fingertips. However, this can also work to our advantage.
    I am a Middle School Science teacher in Philadelphia, and it’s my JOB to engage teenagers everyday in Science. I have found that teens are very interested in Weather. I have my students watch the daily news for the weather forecast. After explaining vocabulary terms to them, they now understand what “humidity” and “barometric pressure” actually deals with. I like to spin my classes to have the children impress their peers. I doubt many 10 year olds know what barometric pressure is, but when you teach the children the science principles they feel like a powerhouse of knowledge.
    I also have my students pick a location in our world and study their weather for a week. Then, the students must make up their own weather forecast from that location and videotape themselves as if they were on the news. They LOVE this project.
    “Going Green”, “Alternative Energy”, and “science in schools” are going to become increasingly more prominent tag phrases in the coming months with our election nearing. Have your children listen to the debates and see how THEY feel about what the candidates are saying.
    It’s very important to get teens and pre-teens excited about Science. Middle School is the age of influence, and if science is “cool”, then students will eager to learn so much more.

  • Lauren

    Maryann,
    It’s definitely a challenge keeping teens interested in Science, especially with the extra-curricular activities and technology this generation has at their fingertips. However, this can also work to our advantage.
    I am a Middle School Science teacher in Philadelphia, and it’s my JOB to engage teenagers everyday in Science. I have found that teens are very interested in Weather. I have my students watch the daily news for the weather forecast. After explaining vocabulary terms to them, they now understand what “humidity” and “barometric pressure” actually deals with. I like to spin my classes to have the children impress their peers. I doubt many 10 year olds know what barometric pressure is, but when you teach the children the science principles they feel like a powerhouse of knowledge.
    I also have my students pick a location in our world and study their weather for a week. Then, the students must make up their own weather forecast from that location and videotape themselves as if they were on the news. They LOVE this project.
    “Going Green”, “Alternative Energy”, and “science in schools” are going to become increasingly more prominent tag phrases in the coming months with our election nearing. Have your children listen to the debates and see how THEY feel about what the candidates are saying.
    It’s very important to get teens and pre-teens excited about Science. Middle School is the age of influence, and if science is “cool”, then students will eager to learn so much more.

  • JT Lewis

    Hey ScienceCheerleader,

    Thanks for speaking out for the citizen scientists among us. Not every home-made tape is naughty in nature, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM to see how Individuals armed with digital recorders can add to our understanding of the natural world.

    Other cool citizen-scientist initiatives:

    http://nbii-nin.ciesin.columbia.edu/ipane/volunteers/become.htm
    (plot spread of invasive plant species) and
    http://confluence.org/ (photgraph every world intersection of lattitude and longitude.)

  • JT Lewis

    Hey ScienceCheerleader,

    Thanks for speaking out for the citizen scientists among us. Not every home-made tape is naughty in nature, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM to see how Individuals armed with digital recorders can add to our understanding of the natural world.

    Other cool citizen-scientist initiatives:

    http://nbii-nin.ciesin.columbia.edu/ipane/volunteers/become.htm
    (plot spread of invasive plant species) and
    http://confluence.org/ (photgraph every world intersection of lattitude and longitude.)