We’ve lost touch with how to even grasp science, let alone appreciate it
Re “Will America yield its position as the world’s leader in science and technology?” by Eric S. Lander (Opinion, Jan. 30): While the current administration has reached a horrifying new low in its understanding and trust in science and evidence-based conclusions, this decline has been a long time coming. Despite the advances and benefits brought by scientific research, the public’s distrust of science and scientists is unfathomably high today. Respect for scientists and engineers and the work they do has been in steady decline since the heady days 50 years ago, when the Apollo moon missions made Americans proud of our scientific leadership and sparked great interest in learning about science and technology.
Why this decline? Some blame can be placed on the widespread use of the Internet. With no gatekeeper for discerning fact from fiction, the Internet gives equal weight to scientific fact, fringe beliefs, and everything in between. But perhaps more systemically is the lack of understanding by the public of fundamental concepts in science, scientific discoveries, and the process of scientific research — understandings needed to make informed decisions and avoid being misled by hype, misinformation, and political agendas.
If America is to address the questions Lander raises, it must be with the support of a scientifically well-informed and literate public. One place to begin this education is by transforming how science is taught in our schools, to focus on the big ideas in science, the nature of scientific research, and the practices of critical thinking and reaching evidence-based conclusions.
Our slide in science leadership
is not going unnoticed by the public
In his Jan. 30 op-ed, Eric S. Lander decries the lack of attention in Washington, much less debate, to our nation’s tenuous leadership in science and technology. This could help explain why there’s so much uncertainty among the public about the future of our scientific enterprise.
When asked whether America’s global preeminence in science and innovation will strengthen or weaken in 2018, nearly one-third, or 31 percent, of respondents said it would weaken, according to a recent national public opinion survey commissioned by Research!America.
Along with a call to action from leading scientists, the eroding public perception of our global standing in science should be a wake-up call for Congress and the Trump administration. We cannot simply hope for greatness as federal funding diminishes and policies to advance innovation remain few and far between. Leadership in research and development requires a strong national commitment to ensure the next generation of innovators.
We urge President Trump, when he releases his budget for the next fiscal year, to demonstrate strong support for the opportunities before us to conquer disease and strengthen our competitive edge.