Education Reform

Arthur Camins and Paul Kalb: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times for Science and Technology

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The authors of this article are both scientists. Arthur Camins was director of the Center for Innovation and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology. Paul Kalb worked for more than 40 years as an environmental engineer at Brookhaven National Laboratory. In their article, they note that science is more important than ever, yet a sizable portion of the public rejects its findings and misunderstands it.

They write:

The Covid-19 pandemic is waning in the United States yet resistance to vaccination remains a major impediment to widespread immunity. Wildfires, severe weather events, and destructive habitat change are more common place, yet almost one in five Americans still deny the clear cause — climate change. Former president Trump and his Republican allies weaponized and took science denial to an unprecedented dangerous level, equating evidentiary claims with self-serving opinion.

In light of these challenges, the mantra from politicians to, “Follow the science,” is a welcome change. However, effective vaccine distribution and necessary advances in clean energy production will take a lot more than political rhetoric. Limited public understanding of and confidence in the processes of science and technology has created a best of times and worst of times crisis.

While the public is increasingly exposed to the iterative nature of science and uncertainty analysis, too many people associate science with some of its negative technological applications such as food additives, pollution, and uncontrolled greenhouse gases.

This dynamic and its deadly and destructive impacts pose an existential challenge. Resolution depends on informed participation in democratic decision-making. We are at an inflection point and it’s up to scientists and science educators to do the heavy lifting to convey how science and engineering can contribute to improving the human condition...

Every K-12 school and college as well as science, engineering, and health institutions must be explicitly targeted to emphasize that science and technology are the basic tools needed to improve the quality life of every human being. Specifically, curriculum must stress that knowledge development is an iterative process, models and uncertainty analysis are effective predictive tools, and risk assessment/relative risk are a critical part of the overall decision-making process. Effective communication and education are key and now is the time to act swiftly and decisively.

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