Volume 24, Number 1 January 1995
Upcoming Sessions and a New Open Forum
The Forum on Physics and Society (FPS) is sponsoring, or co-sponsoring, or cooperating on, several invited sessions at the March APS meeting in San Jose and the April APS/AAPT meeting in Washington, DC. Here is the latest information about these sessions:
Topic (not necessarily the title) Organizer Sponsors March: Jobs and Education Tony Nero FPS, FED Energy Efficiency in Buildings David Goldstein FPS Sustainable Technologies Tina Kaarsberg FPS Debunking Pseudo-Science Larry Rubin FPS, GIMS April: Forum Awards Session Tony Nero FPS North Korea-Nuclear Aspects T. Fainberg, P. Zimmerman FPS, FIP Alternative Careers in Physics Brian Schwartz FPS Human Radiation Experiments Mark Goodman FPS, FHP International Physics David Kelland FPS, FIP Phys Dept Site Visits to Improve the Climate for Women M. Dresselhaus CSWP, AAPT What is the Value of Science? FED
New open forums. Our Forum will try something new at the March session on "Jobs and Education," and probably also at the April sessions on "What is the Value of Science?" and "Women in Physics." The invited speakers will give very brief talks intended to frame the questions and points of view about the topic, and the bulk of the session will then turn into a forum where members of the audience or panel can pose questions, make statements, or respond to questions or statements of others. Comments and questions will be limited to three minutes. The Forum on Physics and Society plans to transcribe these discussions in order to initiate a broader continuing discussion among APS members over the internet.
It's time again to think about who should be honored with APS fellowship for distinguished work of interest to the Forum on Physics and Society. The 1994 fellowship awardees were Frederick Bernthal, Anthony Fainberg, Daniel Kammen, Joseph Martinez, and Thomas Neff. Nomination forms are in the APS News for January 1994, pp. 8-10. If you cannot locate that edition of the APS News, then please request a form from the Office of the APS Executive Secretary, 301-209-3268. Send the filled-out form directly to the APS Executive Secretary, who will in turn send the nominations for candidates working in areas of physics-and-society to our Forum's Fellowship Committee for consideration. Nominations must be received by April 1 for consideration in the current year. When you send your nomination to APS, please also send a copy to the Chair of our Forum Fellowship Committee, Edward Gerjuoy, Department of Physics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Contact Edward Gerjuoy if you have any questions, at 412-624-9099, fax 412-624-9163, email GERJUOY@vms.cis.pitt.edu.
During the second weekend of June, the National Research Council's Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications held a workshop on science and society in Vail, Colorado. The roughly 40 participants came not only from the laboratory, but also from backgrounds in business, media, government, and academia (including legal anthropology, philosophy, and policy science). The workshop consisted of invited presentations followed by both large and small discussion groups. The general goal of the workshop was to examine the interaction and relationship between the research community, government, and society. What actions should be taken "to transform changes in the environment for science from problems into opportunities?" The issues involved are diverse and the discussions were correspondingly wide-ranging. However, the inter-related themes of communication and sustainability seemed to pervade the weekend.
The workshop began with a discussion of the changing societal context for science. Although the achievements of science are widely considered to have been the key to winning the cold war, the place of science in the new world order of economic competitiveness seems less certain. The public's faith in the ability of science to solve pressing problems is diminishing, while distrust of elite institutions, including science, is increasing. Federal budgets for all activities, including science, will continue to be tight for the foreseeable future.
"Sustainable science" was suggested as an appropriate new paradigm, sustainable science being defined as: (1) enhancing society's capabilities, including the ability to further science, and (2) enhancing science's potential to make further contributions to society. Thus, sustainable science is automatically relevant to society. Changes need to be made to protect present strengths while making science more productive for society. The need for better communication with the public was often mentioned. Public faith in science can be renewed by honestly but avidly communicating the benefits of science and avoiding the overselling of what can be accomplished. The communication must go both ways, with scientists listening to public viewpoints and concerns.
Even though scientific literacy in this country is extremely low, public interest in science is still surprisingly high. This interest is a reservoir of support that the science community must not drain without working on replenishment. Perhaps every scientist should consider communicating with non-scientists his or her second job. In any event, academic scientists need to be rewarded for such service work as well as for classroom teaching and research.
Rather than specialized training, a science degree should be considered general education for a technological age. At the graduate level, Ph.D. programs may need to be modified so that graduates are prepared for nontraditional careers involving use of their knowledge of science. On the workshop's final day the participants discussed a number of specific suggestions for where to go from here. Perhaps the most important point was that this sort of dialogue should continue, so that the science community can reassess and restructure its relationship to society.
*A report will be forthcoming from the NRC on its regional science-and-society workshops held in Vail and in Burlingame CA. This article does not necessarily represent the views of the National Academy of Sciences or of the workshop's sponsors. The Vail workshop was cosponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado, and UCAR's Walter Orr Roberts Institute.