Communicating science

Communicating science

by UA&P News Desk on April 24, 2012 - 11:09 am

by Dr. Bernardo Villegas, “Changing World” column in the Manila Bulletin

The fledgling School of Science and Engineering of the University of Asia and the Pacific is true to the roots of UA&P as an offshoot of the Center for Research and Communication, a think tank founded in 1967 to communicate to nonspecialists the findings of the science of economics.

In late January, 2012, it gathered hundreds of high school students in an event in which contestants competed for cash prizes as they demonstrated how effective they were in communicating to lay people the esoteric findings of the physical sciences. The students read articles from scientific journals and then tried to put the findings of scientists and engineers into ordinary language so that they could be meaningful to the ordinary lives of citizens.

At the alma mater of some of the founders of CRC, Harvard University, there is already a tradition for the scientists themselves to communicate their findings to nonspecialists. In an article that appeared in the Harvard Gazette entitled “Ideas to improve the everyday,” there appeared a summary of the ten-minute talks given by leading Harvard faculty members in which they framed big questions about happiness, stem cell growth, runaway obesity, and the exploding American prison population. The student-organized event was aimed at “bringing big ideas back to the center.” The experts came from diverse schools or institutes like the Harvard Divinity School, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the Human Evolutionary Biology Department and the Graduate School of Education.

Already in its third straight year, the event is labeled “Harvard Thinks Big.” Kaia Stern, a lecturer in ethics at Harvard Divinity School, went further and asked the audience to “act big.” She urged students to think of the one in 30 Americans behind bars or on parole or probation, according to a research of the Pew Center. She cited data which showed that the United States has a higher incarceration rate than Russia, Iran, Iraq, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and Mexico combined. She said that the surge in mass imprisonment in America is everyone’s problem. “For as long as we tolerate poverty, and live in fear, Americans are complicit in the cycle of crime,” she said. My own take here is that more than an economic problem, the exploding imprisonment rate is due to the breakdown in family values and the increasing number of single mothers and children, especially sons, who grow up without a father. That is why I find it very logical that the next presidential fight in the US will not be based on “It’s the economy, stupid!” To put words into the mouth of Rick Santorum, “It’s morality, stupid!”

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