The Chemical Heritage Foundation on Public Engagement with Science

Here’s a recent blog post written by Tom Tritton, CEO of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. I had the pleasure of participating in a recent symposium at CHF, which Tom references below. I’ll have more to report, shortly; as will Tom. In the interim, here’s a brief overview.

May 26, 2011 | Tom Tritton

One common abbreviation is PEGS. It certainly tops PUS for the related concept: public understanding of science.

Catchy acronyms notwithstanding, in both cases the goal is to find creative ways to help people understand the basic principles of science and how its methods produce new knowledge. To this end CHF gathered a group of 13 top thinkers for a daylong exploration of the subject. In due course we will produce a distillation of the main themes and threads, but for now here are a few pithy nuggets of wisdom from the participants:

* People are interested in science even if they don’t know it. Thus, science should be joyful, just like art, music, and literature.
* Whatever mode of public programming is used to engage people with the history and impacts of science, a research-based evaluation of effectiveness is needed if you wish to improve over time.
* The primary goal of PEGS isn’t to produce more scientists and engineers, but to help ordinary citizens make sense of a highly technological society.
* Science is less about the facts and more about the process of discovery. Unfortunately, most science news is about facts.
* Argumentation is positive because it produces dialogue.
* Partnerships between for profit corporations and nonprofit institutions are becoming the norm for science programming aimed at the public.

If you’d like to read more about public engagement with science here is an excellent paper authored by several of the participants at least week’s gathering: