“Whether it’s the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create twenty-first century jobs–today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation.” – President Barack Obama
At a time when our nation and our planet face unprecedented challenges, the sciences have a more important role to play in society than ever before. Yet today surprisingly few working scientists and researchers become visible, actively engaged public leaders.
This lack of visible scientific leaders has real consequences. Without them, science’s influence is diminished in public debate. Well-funded special interests can create the appearance of facts where they do not exist, and controversy where there is little or no actual debate. The truth can become politicized, and public action on vital issues stalled. And scientists themselves can miss out on opportunities to form new kinds of interdisciplinary collaborations and relationships that can enrich their work and ideas.
The reasons for the science leadership gap are complex: few scientists receive formal communications, public engagement and leadership training; an ‘anti-popularizer’ bias in many academic departments discourages scientists from engaging the public; and most working scientists lack a network of relationships with the media and peers who can help them overcome obstacles, and who can support them in becoming public advocates for their fields.
The PopTech Science and Public Leadership Fellows Program aims to address these issues by developing a corps of highly visible and socially engaged scientific leaders who embody science as an essential way of thinking, discovering, understanding and deciding.