Environmental public health, the built environment and planning
The Superfund Research Center (SRC) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)—a federal agency of the US government that supports holistic approaches to research for the protection of human health. Superfund Research Programs are required to integrate biomedical research with some mix of engineering, hydrology, the earth sciences and ecology. These programs are also required to do “research translation” that bridges science and society through applied projects. Community outreach to vulnerable populations is encouraged at the same time. UCSD’s Superfund Research Program (2000-2017) links the environmental health sciences to policy and planning using sustainability and watersheds as frameworks for action. Leaders of the Research Translation and Community Engagement projects for UCSD’s Superfund Research Program entered the science communication challenge described here.
One of the challenges deemed a high priority by UCSD’s Superfund Research Center is science communication. We create multimedia and TV documentaries about university-community partnerships and our efforts to link knowledge to action for healthy and sustainable communities. The UCSD SRCis funded by the National Institute of Enviornmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The NIEHS is launching a great new program called Partnerships for Enviornmental Public Health (the image above was copied from the PEHP web page).
More and more of the funding entities that support science (public, private, not-for-profit organizations), demand effective science communication. Finding effective ways to share the fruits of knowledge production for the common good is vital to improving quality of life and place in our complicated and turbulent 21st century.
Science has the potential to play a pivotal role in the transition to sustainable development. But science, like anything else that involves diverse value systems and competition for limited resources, is a contested terrain with winners and loosers. To be good for the collective wellbeing of people around the world, science has to play its part in struggles for social and environmental justice, while adhering to the rigors of evidence-based methods of inquiry and evaluation.
Multimedia, story telling, and social networking technology are all merging in new and exciting ways that can be used to advance community-based, problem-solving science. The Superfund Research Program at UCSD aims to chart new territory at this frontier. We are working on a number of goals and we have identified a number of actions needed.
- A science literate public that can meaningfully participate in societal decisions about science and technology.
- Greater public awareness of environmental health risks and how planning can play an important role in minimizing such risks.
- Help advance the UN Millennium Development Goals 7 and 8: ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development
- Establish teams linking scientists, researchers and community in the common pursuit of sustainable development. Enable said teams to share their work through knowledge networks and effective means of science communication.
- Build on-line, open access archives that make multimedia easily available for science communication in support of community-based projects.
- Improve policy, planning, and decision-making for healthy and sustainable communities through environmental public health partnerships and knowledge networks.
By Keith Pezzoli on March 22, 2010 at 08:08 PM
No Opportunities have been added to this Challenge.
To improve science communication at the nexus of environmenal public health and planning, we see three areas in need of action research:
1. Understanding how the public thinks about social, economic and environmental public health problems; and how the public weighs costs and benefits of potential solutions framed in terms of promoting sustaianble and healthy communities.
2. Evaluating the efficacy of various mechanisms of science communication (including standard methods such as publications, news releases, conferences, and scientific web sites, as well as non-traditional methods that have become increasingly popular such as music, video, dance, and the globalization of science, including protest movements focused on scientific issues, through social networking technologies.
3. Explaining the role science communication plays in planning and decision-making, as well as in larger dynamics involving governance, nation building and democracy.
Science communication is likely to become increasingly important for many reasons. While economies worldwide are increasingly knowledge-based and dependent on inputs from the scientific community, the rapid evolution of science has outpaced our national and global capacity to bridge science and society in effective and equitable ways. The fruits of science are unevenly distributed and sometimes highly contested making science-based governance difficult. There is a growing body of work that addresses these issues.
The most recent 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Triple A-S” (AAAS), was organized around the central theme of “Bridging Science and Society.” The AAAS is an international non-profit organization that publishes the journal Science, newsletters, books and reports. As noted on their web site, the AAAS “spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.” Daniel Yankelovich, Public Agenda’s founder, presented at the 2010 AAAS meeting. The Public Agenda’s two-fold mission is to help: “American leaders better understand the public’s point of view”, and to help “Citizens know more about critical policy issues so they can make thoughtful, informed decisions.” At the AAAS meeting, Yankelovich argued that scientists, as well as journalists and many other experts, hold a misleading view of how the public thinks about problems. The following summary of his presentation was written by Scott Bittle on the Public Agenda’s web site:
“The public has a “learning curve” on tough problems, moving from initial consciousness of a problem, to working through the possible solutions, and then finally, resolution about what to do. Establishing the facts is only one part of the challenge. There are all kinds of other potential barriers to moving forward, such as wishful thinking or denial, a lack of urgency, or a lack of practical choices. Values, options, and how problems are framed are as important here as information. So is time, because people need time to weigh different alternatives. That’s very different from the classic “scientific” way of understanding problems, and it suggests a different approach, based on helping the public move through the various obstacles they face.” ( http://www.publicagenda.org/blogs/climate-deadlock-the-publics-learning-curve, viewed March 12, 2010).
In line with the above obversation, Nisbet and Dietram (2009) argue that “any science communication efforts need to be based on a systematic empirical understanding of an intended audience ’ s existing values, knowledge, and attitudes, their interpersonal and social contexts, and their preferred media sources and communication channels” (p. 1767).
The above comments are instructive: we need new forms of science communication that go beyond conveying facts more efficiently. Political economy, culture, globalization are all important parts of the puzzle. Research universities have an important role to play in improving science communication especially when genuine efforts are made to do so through community-based partnerships and collaboration across diverse boundaries. This is a topic to be addressed at the next annual meeting of the AAAS. The 2011 meeting’s theme—Science Without Borders—will highlight science and teaching that cross conventional boundaries and get beyond the constraints of disciplinary silos.
Dr. Peter Agre, AAAS President, notes how “the relevance of science, technology, and engineering as well as scientific literacy to the well-being of society is more profound than ever.” At the same time the global dimension of all this is more profound than ever, making the challenge to improve science communication a call to action that resonates around the world. In his first major speech to scientists as President of the USA, Barack Obama observed how: “Science, technology, and innovation proceed more rapidly and more cost-effectively when insights, costs, and risks are shared; and so many of the challenges that science and technology will help us meet are global in character. This is true of our dependence on oil, the consequences of climate change, the threat of epidemic disease, and the spread of nuclear weapons.” ( President Barack Obama, excerpt from his address to scientists at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on April 28, 2009).
Bäckstrand, Karin 2003. “Civic Science for Sustainability: Reframing the Role of Experts, Policy-Makers and Citizens in Environmental Governance.” Global Environmental Politics 4:24-40.
Bourne, Philip E. and Leo M. Chalupa. 2008. “A new approach to scientific dissemination.” Materials Today 11:48-48.
Hess, Charlotte and Elinor Ostrom. 2007. Understanding knowledge as a commons : from theory to practice. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Jasanoff, Sheila. 2004. States of knowledge : the co-production of science and social order. London ; New York: Routledge.
Jasanoff, Sheila. 2005. Designs on nature : science and democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Lindberg Christensen, Lars 2007. The hands-on guide for science communicators : a step-by-step approach to public outreach. New York: Springer.
Mooney, Chris and Sheril Kirshenbaum. 2009. Unscientific America : how scientific illiteracy threatens our future. New York: Basic Books.
Nisbet, Matthew C. and Dietram A. Scheufele. 2009. “What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions.” Am. J. Bot. 96:1767-1778.
Poliakoff, Ellen and Thomas L. Webb. 2007. “What Factors Predict Scientists’ Intentions to Participate in Public Engagement of Science Activities?” Science Communication 29:242-263.
Schuler, Douglas. 2008. Liberating voices : a pattern language for communication revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
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UCSD Superfund Research Program
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