Scientists’ Dreams for 2013: Fix Science TV, Make Climate Change Sink In, and More

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 7 2013 3:33 PM

Scientists’ Dreams for 2013: Fix Science TV, Make Climate Change Sink In, and More

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Scientists' dreams for the new year don't (necessarily) involve weight loss and quitting smoking

Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Last week, as 2013 dawned, Future Tense asked members of the scientific community: What would you like to see change in—or for—science in the coming year?

“My most ardent wish,” ornithologist/ecologist Gordon H. Orians replied, is “acceptance that Earth’s climate is really changing, that we are the primary cause of those changes, and that those changes, which are already serious, are certain to impose major challenges for human life. Widespread denial impedes progress in designing and implementing appropriate policies and regulations.”

Renowned geologist and author Richard Alley has been testifying before Congress about climate change since 2003, and he thinks mainstream media are the problem. “It would be nice to see more members of the press––not just the best of you but most or all of you––explain more clearly the difference between what one scientist may say on a contentious topic, and what the National Academy of Sciences, or the other authoritative assessment bodies, say about that topic.”

Former Nature editor Chris Gunter thinks scientists are the ones who have to adapt. She proposes including  “a new section at the end of traditional scientific papers, titled ‘outreach resources.' ” She adds, “If we can't explain our work to non-specialists and non-scientists, then we will never be able to effectively compete for funds, especially in times of turmoil, like now.”

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William Conrad, a pharmacology Ph.D. candidate at Seattle’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is also focused on publishing. “First,” he says, “make articles freely available within one year of publication; second, make peer review more transparent.”

We also need to recalibrate the balance between science and entertainment. “I want science to be re-injected into science television,” said paleontology journalist and author Brian Switek; “We're in a sorry state when [the network formerly known as] The Learning Channel's main claim to fame is a tiny prima donna hopped up on Mountain Dew, and Animal Planet is able to trick viewers into believing that there's a government conspiracy to hide Mermaids.”

The idea most likely to spur outrage came from David Ng, molecular biologist with the University of British Columbia. “Give the U.N. enforcement capabilities for international agreements concerning the environment or biodiversity issues,” he says, and why not? The UN’s environment agency already offers assistance with environmental issues like poaching, clean energy, water access, and climate change. This is not likely to go over well with the Agenda 21 crowd in the United States.

Most of our New Year's resolutions and goals might not come to fruition the way we hope. But if anyone should be dreaming big, it's scientists.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Maggie Ryan Sandford is a writer and broadcast media producer. Follow her on Twitter.