Why Scientists Must Address the Public

Question: How can science improve its outreach to the general public?

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Gregory Hannon: Well, I mean, we work for the public, if you want to think about where the funding comes for our research.  It comes from the National Institutes of Health, which his supported by taxpayers.  And I think consequently, we have a real obligation to communicate science to the public.  Outreach, I think, should happen at every level.  I think that working scientists should be interfacing with high schools, for example, going into high school biology classrooms, and communicating the excitement of their work to the student.  Cold Spring Harbor Lab has a very strong community outreach program, something they call the DNA Learning Center, and it’s designed to bring middle school students and high school students into laboratories and expose them to laboratory science.  I think it’s our obligation as scientists to reach out to the public in the form of public lecture series.  We also have a strong public lecture program at the laboratory.  I participate in it and I know that many of the other investigators at the lab participate in it.  And I think that the public has to understand science.  Not only because they pay for it, but because science is increasingly a part of their everyday life.  And to go back to the discussion of sequencing and bioethics, a time will come in the not too distant future when you walk into a doctor’s office and they sequence at least part of your genome and without a basic understanding of biology, how is the general public going to react to this.  How are they going to understand what’s being communicated to them about their risk of disease and about how their own genetics affect their response to treatments?

Recorded on February 9, 2010

Interviewed by Austin Allen

Doctors’ visits will soon include the sequencing of "at least part of your genome." If scientists don’t clearly explain the reasons for this, they’ve failed the taxpayers who fund their research.

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