Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
“Is America flunking science?”
When Joe Levine, an environmental educator, posed this question in a presentation to EPA employees in Research Triangle Park, NC, my immediate answer was “no way.” After several examples of scientific misunderstandings, Levine started to change my mind.
Then, Levine gave an example that really hit home. He referenced how students are often taught about the skeletal system by having to memorize the names of human bones. I started to rack my brain for any bones I could remember and all I came up with was a verse from the song “Dry Bones.”
“The leg bone connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone connected to the hip bone.”
Levine explained how in many classrooms students memorize series of seemingly unrelated scientific facts (like the names of human bones), without getting a true understanding of how science works.
As his presentation continued, Levine focused on the difficulty of communicating science in today’s society. The topics presented resonated with me not only as someone working as a new member of the science communications team for EPA’s National Research Programs, but also as a communication student.
My education has engrained in me the belief that effective communication is necessary in every industry and field. As the country faces complex environmental issues, the importance of science outreach, education and communication only grows.
But, science communication doesn’t come without its challenges. Levine highlighted the need to:
- Increase scientific literacy so more people understand how science works
- Present scientific information in short, digestible forms
- Provide a strong scientific presence in the media, especially online
I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a communications campaign at EPA that’s meeting these needs. The Office of Research and Development’s Clean Air Research Program’s campaign, Air Science 40, is sharing research accomplishments and scientific contributions through things like a short documentary film, Science to Protect the Air We Breathe and events.
Levine summed up the potential and value of science communication with one of his final thoughts, “scientific knowledge empowers people.” With the right approach, science communication can be as innovative, interesting and important as the science itself. I’m happy to be a part of that effort here at EPA.
About the author: Rachel Canfield is a student services contractor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a graduate student in communication at North Carolina State University.