Science and technology are a ubiquitous presence in everyday life. The way we work, communicate
with one another, stay healthy, and play are all profoundly influenced by the results of scientific
inquiry. In such a world, increasing the public's understanding and appreciation of science and
technology is of paramount importance.
The science and engineering community has always recognized this imperative. Yet it has not been as
successful as it might be in encouraging communication of science and engineering knowledge and research
results to a wider public audience. There are few incentives -- and in some cases, severe disincentives
-- for scientists to make their own work or that of others accessible through popular literature or the
broadcast media. Some scientists and engineers -- Carl Sagan and E. O. Wilson, for example -- have
ignored or overcome these professional obstacles. Their popular work has been well received and
broadly acclaimed, providing evidence of a public audience eager for well-written and understandable science.
In spring 1999, the National Science Board Committee on Communication and Outreach was established to provide
guidance on the role that the Board and the Foundation should play in expanding public awareness of science
and engineering and of NSF's mission in promoting discovery and the development of the Nation's human resource
base The Committee was charged to:
Communicate the importance, challenges, and opportunities of science and engineering to policymakers and
government leaders; and
Define the role that NSF should play in generating public appreciation and awareness of science and of
the agency's mission to promote discovery and the development of the U.S. human resource base.
In the course of its deliberations, the Committee focused particularly on:
Defining the role the Board and NSF should play in generating public awareness of NSF's mission and of
the contributions of science and engineering to society's well being;
Strengthening outreach efforts already underway by the NSF Director; and
Exploring the role the community should play in informing the public about the importance of science
and engineering, and determining how NSF can support that role.
Science literacy, while related to the matter of the public's understanding of science, was not considered
to be a primary focus of the Committee.
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