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Scientific and technological innovations touch every corner of American life. By informing the economy, health and medicine, national resources and their use, scientific information deeply influences the choices made by Americans about how they live their lives and contribute to society. Recent polling data from Pew Research Center reveal a complex relationship among citizens and scientists wherein scientists’ achievements are generally recognized and valued, but there is a large opinion gap between the public and scientists on certain scientific issues. Many factors inform Americans’ views on these issues, some more strongly than others, including political leanings, age, race, education, and religious beliefs. Any divergence between the views of scientists and the public could have implications for policy development and other public decision-making processes.

The Public Face of Science, a three-year project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, engages the expertise of a broad range of leaders in communication, law, humanities, the arts, journalism, public affairs, and the physical, social, and life sciences. The initiative will comprise a series of activities to address various aspects of the complex and evolving relationship between scientists and the public, including:

Trust and Perception
: A central activity of The Public Face of Science will be a three-year study on:
  • How individual beliefs and scientific comprehension affect the perception of and trust in the scientific process, including how scientific discourse, disputes and consensus are portrayed in the media
  • To what extent the public has confidence in the self-correcting nature of science
  • How journalistic practices could be refined to better convey the incremental and iterative process of scientific research.
Public and Media Engagement: The Academy will organize conversations with Academy members and other experts around the country to examine how the public’s understanding of, and trust in, science has varied historically among scientific fields, and to encourage and equip its membership to engage more closely with nonscientific audiences.

Additionally, building on the 2010 Academy publication Science and the Media, the Academy will organize a series of discussions with science journalists across the country to examine the role of the media (including new outlets such as social, digital, and local media) in shaping the public’s perception of how scientists work, think, collaborate, and debate.

Informing Policy and Action: To complement the activities described above, the Academy will undertake a series of short-term (12-18 months) studies examining how scientists are consulted during public decision-making processes. Examples include:
  • court decisions
  • the development of educational standards
  • responses to natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and climate change.

Throughout this initiative, the Academy will seek opportunities to partner with radio and television producers to create programming that conveys key findings to public audiences. A model for such programming is the Academy’s recent partnership with Boston–area WGBH News to create radio programs featuring Academy lectures, studies, and publications, including the Summer and Fall 2015 issues of its journal Daedalus,On Water” and “The Future of Food, Health & the Environment of a Full Earth.”

The Public Face of Science project is funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Rita Allen Foundation.

About the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world. Current Academy research focuses on higher education, the humanities, and the arts; science and technology policy; global security and energy; and American institutions and the public good. The Academy’s work is advanced by its more than 5,000 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world. Visit the American Academy of Arts and Sciences website for more information.