WHOI Scientist Backs ‘Scientist Citizens’;
Not Celebrities or Lobbyists, ‘Just Citizens’

The “formidable” walls of the ivory tower and the scientific fraternity generally need to better support scientists’ “rightful role in our society” as communicators with and enlighteners for the public on science-related policy issues.

That’s a basic message of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientist Christopher Reddy, director of WHOI’s Coastal Ocean Institute, in the March 13, 2009, issue of Science.

Chris Reddy, WHOI

Reddy, who is known to practice what he preaches in this one-page “Scientist Citizens” essay, wrote that explaining their scientific research work to the public “is not an unreasonable price for receiving public funds to do research.” Citing climate change among other issues, he said more and better scientific outreach could help “combat ignorance” while providing sound guidance for policymaking.

“It’s critical that scientists venture beyond their laboratories to put these issues into the correct contexts and help the public understand what is known, unknown, and under debate,” he wrote. He urged that processes for establishing academic tenure be reformed to better accommodate and encourage scientific outreach efforts.

Arguing that the scientific community has an obligation to engage with society on important science-related issues, Reddy wrote, “That doesn’t mean scientists need to be celebrities, politicians, or lobbyists – just citizens.”

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