The Public Face of Science in America: Priorities for the Future

From the President

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The Public Face of Science

Since its inception, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Public Face of Science Initiative has sought to understand and strengthen the relationship between science and society. The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the critical role science plays in ensuring the well-being—indeed, the very survival—of both individuals and society as a whole. As we face this crisis, we can take some encouragement from the findings of the Public Face of Science Initiative, which show that confidence in scientific leaders has remained relatively stable over the last thirty years. It is worth noting, however, that this confidence varies based on age, race, educational attainment, region, political ideology, and other characteristics.

The current crisis has underscored the importance of a society in which everyone has equal opportunity to learn from, engage with, and participate in science. However, revenue losses and budget cuts are having an enormous, and still-evolving, impact on the professional writers, educators, museum curators, outreach organizers, and researchers who are dedicated to building the connections between science and society. While the goals and suggested actions identified throughout this report are more important than ever, they are even further from being realized due to diminished resources and field-wide layoffs. For those with the power and capacity to support the institutions and organizations that provide access to science, now is the time to act. The priorities and goals in this report highlight important means for local science engagement efforts, science journalists, and the scientific community more generally to communicate and engage more effectively.

This is the third and final report from the Academy’s Public Face of Science Initiative, a multiyear endeavor to learn more about the complex and evolving relationship between scientists and the public. The first report, Perceptions of Science in America, was released in February 2018 and examined the current state of trust in science and scientists. The second report, Encountering Science in America, was released in February 2019 and highlighted the numerous ways that individuals encounter science in their everyday lives.

The Academy is grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Hellman Fellows Fund for their generous support of the Public Face of Science Initiative. The Academy also thanks the participants at workshops held in June 2016 and June 2017, as well as the many project advisors whose thoughtfulness and insights contributed to the development of this initiative and final report. A special acknowledgement to the project staff who stewarded the initiative over the years: Erica Palma Kimmerling, John Randell, Rebecca Tiernan, Alison Leaf, Keerthi Shetty, and Shalin Jyotishi.

David W. Oxtoby
President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences