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New FAS Tool Teaches Scientists to Engage the Public

New FAS Tool Teaches Scientists to Engage the Public
03-19-2009

Author: Monica Amarelo

Type: Release


WASHINGTON, DC—Most scientific research goes largely unnoticed by the general public until media reports reveal major scientific breakthroughs or biosafety accidents. The most recent module in the FAS Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research series examines the public reaction to scientific research. It is designed to increase scientists’ awareness of the general public’s perception of their research, the possible consequences, and how scientists can engage the public to address their concerns.

“Scientists have to realize that some people are afraid of research being done in their community,” said Michael Stebbins, FAS Director of Biology Policy. “They need to do a better job of reaching out to the public and communicating the benefits of science.”

Susan Ehrlich, a former Judge in the Arizona Court of Appeals, is the public representative on the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) and featured in the new module released today.  In a series of video clips, she stresses the importance of scientific research and explains why scientists need to engage the public and address their concerns.

“I want scientists to be evangelists,” Ehrlich says in one video segment. “My fear is that if there is not a bridge over the chasm between scientists and the public, that the scientific enterprise will be harmed.”

Following the anthrax letter attacks in 2001, concern has grown over legitimate scientific work that could be misused to threaten public health and national security. Members of the general public often express concerns about high containment facilities operating or being built in their neighborhoods and the apparent lack of transparency and oversight of biodefense research. People want to know that dangerous pathogens are secure and that they and their families are not in danger simply because a research facility is located nearby. While it may be easier to ignore or diminish public concerns, this may have greater consequences than many scientists realize.

The “Public Reaction to Science Research” module is the latest addition to the FAS Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research multimedia online education material. The series illustrates the implications of dual-use biological research through case studies of researchers and provides a historical background on bioterrorism, bioweapons and the current laws, regulations and treaties that apply to biodefense research. Continuing development and expansion of the Case Studies in Dual-Use Biological Research is funded in part through a grant by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Visit the new module on the public reaction to scientific research.

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