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Spring 2001 Vol. 1 No. 1

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Expanding Our Outreach Has Become a Mandate, Not an Option

In listing the traits of a responsible scientist, curiosity, honesty, and open-mindedness, come to mind as key values. But typically missing from most lists of descriptors is "communicator." And yet, the ability to communicate effectively about science is essential, particularly as science increasingly makes its way from the laboratory to public policy. For instance, had the scientific community done a better job of conveying the nature and promise of genetically modified organisms to the public, we might be engaged in a very different, and more productive, public debate today. The fact is that farmers have been breeding crops to bring out desirable qualities for centuries; today we simply use different -- and more precise, I might add -- tools for the job. Unfortunately, this basic point -- along with much of the science -- has all but gotten lost in the dialogue playing out across the pages of the world's newspapers.

At the National Academies, we've begun to put together a wide portfolio of activities to spread the word about science and the work we do. The National Academies In Focus is one part of this undertaking. Along with articles on various recent reports, this inaugural issue includes a very sober look at bioterrorism by IOM member D.A. Henderson, and a thoughtful piece by NAS member May Berenbaum on some of her own success at bringing an understanding of science to the public.

In Focus is a new, evolving enterprise, so we welcome your comments and suggestions. We also encourage you to take a look at the online version at <>.

The National Academies are a collective endeavor, and as such, this space will be shared with my colleagues at the helm of the National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine, Wm. A. Wulf and Ken Shine, respectively. You'll be hearing from them in future issues.

In the meantime, if you have remarks on this issue, please don't hesitate to drop us a line at <>.

    National Academy of Sciences

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Copyright 2001 by the National Academy of Sciences