Bio: Sam Wormley is a retired Associate Scientist and Principal
Investigator, CNDE/IPRT/AL at Iowa State. And for 17 years, an
Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at Marshalltown Community College.
Sam regularly teaches sciences and technology classes for OLLI at
o A scientist's moral obligation to educate the public
An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival
as a free people -- attributed to Thomas Jefferson
Hiring by the Ames Laboratory (1980).
Serving on the Ames_ISU Bicycling Committee (1980s)
Do scientists have a moral obligation to educate the public?
To the extent that they are paid by the public -- or
regardless -- do scientists have a moral obligation to
educate the public? Do they have any social duty to teach
humanity about their discoveries?
"Moral obligation" is kind of strong. First of your initial
assertion that research is paid by the public is not
totally true. Many research projects are receiving private
fundings for better or worse ; worse being when such
financement is motivated by a desired bias such as back when
tobacco industry was providing a lot of "research report"
but many more recent examples can be found.
Second even if public funds are provided their research can
contribute to society without the need to public education.
An historical example is the Manhattan project: the goal was
not to educate public about nuclear bomb but to make one.
Public funds were used for this sole purpose and in fact the
less general public would know about it the better it was.
That being said public education is something that majority
of scientists are willing (not necessarily good) to do. It
is part of the culture of research to let results and
discovery be public in general at least for the purpose of
sharing it with their peer in order to further advance the
state of the art.
o The necessary skill is to translate the science into
language of the man on the street.
Wikipedia: Science Communication
Science Communication to the General Public: Why We Need to
Teach Undergraduate and Graduate Students this Skill as Part
of Their Formal Scientific Training
The public must be able to understand the basics of science
to make informed decisions. Perhaps the most dramatic
example of the negative consequences of poor communication
between scientists and the public is the issue of climate
change, where a variety of factors, not the least of which
is a breakdown in the transmission of fundamental climate
data to the general public, has contributed to widespread
mistrust and misunderstanding of scientists and their
research (Somerville and Hassol, 2011). The issue of climate
change also illustrates how the public acceptance and
understanding of science (or lack thereof) can influence
governmental decision making with regard to regulation,
science policy and funding.
Example: What is the identity of an electron?
Well the answer to this is "Pauli's Exclusion Principle".
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical
principle that states that two identical fermions (particles
with half-integer spin) cannot occupy the same quantum state
simultaneously. Quantum states are the address of an
electron in an atom. So basically Pauli says that no two
electrons can have same address.
Example: What is the proton-proton chain fusion in the Sun/
Planning for your audience
Assessing your audience
Adapting to your audience
Dealing with audience diversity
o Communicating science is often more successful when engaging
and respecting your audience. Make all a part of the
o Use enthusiasm and don't be afraid to show emotion. Show
o Know your subject and all the arguments pro and con.
o Be positive and upbeat -- even about global warming.
Winter OLLI Catalog Entry
Understanding Global Climate Change
Understanding global climate change provides an overview of
what climatologists have learned about our changing climate.
We avoid the political rhetoric and look at what the science
says. The goal is for each of us to better understand what
is happening to climate, why, and how we will live with the
The Greenhouse Gas Effect
Effects of Warming
Steps to Reduce Climate Change
NOAA | Climate Information and Indicators
NASA | Global Climate Change Evidence
IPCC | Fifth Assessment Report (AR5)