2010. What a year at SciCheer.

Hot damn, 2010 was a great year in terms of reaching our goals. I say, it’s time to reach higher!

We set out to help increase adult science literacy, enable more “regular” people to get involved in science activities, and open doors to public participation in Federal science policy deliberations. In the process, we caught the eye of the media including CNN, NPR, ESPN, the Washington Post, The Scientist, Science, Toronto Star, Newsweek, Discover Magazine, Chronicle of Higher Education and more.

Goal #1: Increase adult science literacy.

Here’s what happened: In our effort to attract more “average citizens” to the site, we enlisted the help of professional NBA and NFL cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers through a series of online interviews. Not surprisingly, we caught the eye of the media (in a big way). Surprisingly, this landed us smack-dab in a market we never intended to reach: young girls! Turns out, those 3 million little cheerleaders out there hold procheerleaders in VERY high regard and they listen to e-v-e-r-y word they say. In the interviews, the Science Cheerleaders would say things like, “I love cheerleading and I love chemistry. I never let anyone make me feel like I shouldn’t or can’t do both. My mom encouraged me to follow my dreams and I am so glad I did.”

We started to receive letters of support  from moms, teachers, little girls, government officials, corporate executives, college presidents, you name it.
With the support of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, we brought 11 Science Cheerleaders to the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. to perform science-themed routines and cheers choreographed by the incomparable Laura Eilers of Going Pro Entertainment. BAM! They were a hit, to say the least (check out this video which has something like 127,000 views and counting). They spent the weekend chatting up science and engineering with hundreds of kids and their parents and we spent the ensuing months as media darlings on CNN, NPR, ESPN, the Washington Post and dozens of other media outlets.  We’re thrilled to have made a connection with this new audience (young women) and the adults in their lives.

In 2010, SciCheer moderated a panel discussion on Tapping the Wisdom of Crowds, at George Mason University, and spoke at Harvard, Temple University, the Jackson Hole Symposium, and some other cool digs.

I spent my day job (yup, I have one!) writing a few small pieces for Discover Magazine and dreaming up and running projects for Discover, the National Science Foundation, NBC and the NFL including a series of public panel discussions and Capitol Hill briefings and the Science of NFL Football series. Fun stuff!

What’s next: The Science Cheerleaders are embarking on a series of sponsored appearances and interactions at cheer camps and competitions and more science festivals and major science/engineering competitions…. and we’re entertaining some exciting print, broadcast, and online media opportunities. Stay tuned.

Goal #2 Enable more people to get involved in research projects.

What happened: As a grad student at UPenn studying the role of citizens in science,  I came across a remarkable group of people known as “citizen scientists.” These folks volunteer to help researchers accomplish important tasks often way too big for any one person or computer to tackle.  (Tracking the migratory path of the monarch butterfly, for example,  sure is a lot easier when 100,000 people help tag them and catalog their migration.) I decided to focus my Capstone paper on citizen science (ok, and how they can be harnessed to shape science policy, but I digress). In researching a variety of citizen science initiatives, I spent WAY too much time online searching and searching for these projects….So, SciCheer created a simple “project finder” on this blog to catalog projects and make it easy for anyone to learn about and get involved in those projects. I made this very public to help raise the credibility of this emerging field and to get lots of people jazzed about this idea. There’s no better way to learn than to do, right? Why not steer people towards efforts that will help them re-engage with science while helping scientists in the process?

This quickly outgrew my blog and, in 2010, with the help of cofounders Michael Gold and Susan West,  it gave birth to SciCheer’s sister site, ScienceForCitizens.net. By late Spring, Sci4Cits was selected as one of Philadelphia’s “Top 10 Tech Start Ups with a Social Good,” by Good Company Ventures. We spent the summer in an intense incubation program and graduated with the honor of having the “perfect pitch.”

What’s next: We are now thick in the midst of discussions with potential venture capitalists and we’re about one week away from embarking on a very exciting project with the National Science Foundation, NBC News, and Discover Magazine. Stay tuned!

Goal #3: Open doors to public participation in Federal science policy deliberations.
What happened: SciCheer launched a campaign to reopen the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (read about the fascinating rise and fall of this Office). The OTA provided sound technology assessments to Congress before policies were set. Terrific resource. I was hoping to add a third chair at that table set for scientists and policymakers: one for the public to both become informed on the issues and weigh in on the societal implications of emerging technologies such as synthetic biology or geo engineering. Quickly became clear to me that too many of the old guard supporting the reopening of the OTA did not support the inclusion of public participation. So I changed courses and enlisted the help of Dr. Richard Sclove (thought-leader and author of many of the books and papers I soaked up in grad school).  Dr. Sclove and I schemed a bit and put together a core team of partners to create the first of its kind U.S. network of universities and science centers anchored by a policy think tank.  By mashing up scholars in the field of science policy and society, with museum directors who are experts at public outreach and engagement, and linking them to a D.C. policy think tank held in high esteem by Congress, we figured we couldn’t lose.

In April, during a packed event at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.,  we officially launched ECAST: Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology. Founding institutional partners are: SciCheer, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, Boston Museum of Science, Arizona State University and the Loka Institute. Read Dr. Sclove’s acclaimed publication (distributed at the event): Reinventing Technology Assessment: A 21st Century Model

Nature gave it two thumbs up and had this to say: “It is exactly what Congress needs as it grapples with complex technical issues, and is squarely in line with the stated objective of Democrat and Republican politicians to build wider public participation in decision-making.”

As I’ve said before, it wasn’t that long ago that some folks thought I was “misguided,” “naive,” “nuts,” to push for this level of public participation in science. (It’s one thing to ask someone to help count fireflies or monitor water quality, but to suggest people might add value to critical science policy discussions sometimes drew reactions of shock and horror.) Since then, the reactions have changed considerably. When we issued the report on how to build a 21st century technology assessment mechanism, and announced the formation of a network that will put the report into action, the response was incredible. From Beth Noveck at the White House, to representatives from the EPA and other government agencies as well as universities, museums–and, yes, even scientists–the reception was remarkably warm if not enthusiastic.

What’s next: We have a number of pilot projects in the works and are moving towards a deeper alliance with the European Union’s Technology Assessment agency. I’ll be writing more about this particular effort both here and on the ECAST website. If you’d like to get involved, you can learn about opportunities and sign up here.

As you can see, we’ve got high hopes for 2011! Thank you for all your support and encouragement. I hope one of these efforts has inspired you to reconnect with your inner scientist!

Special thanks to the awesome Science Cheerleaders and SciCheer squad members Dr. John Ohab and Bart Leahy, without whom, I’d be institutionalized. 🙂 And, of course, a huge hug to my husband and four kiddos who’ve yet to grow *completely* bored of my blathering on about SciCheer and Sci4Cits.

I’d be remiss not to add that 2010 included the passing of one of our biggest, brightest fans, Dr. Paul Shin, himself a passionate believer in the importance of science literacy. In his honor, the Coalition for the Public Understanding of Science created an award to be given to someone who embodies Paul’s ability to selflessly share the wonder of science with the general public.