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Fall 2005 Vol. 5 No. 3



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Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt FROM THE PRESIDENT

National Academy of Sciences


Supporting Science by Communicating It

As the new president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council, I want to introduce myself. But before doing so, let me express my deep appreciation and respect to Bruce Alberts. His 12 years of leadership here were characterized by high levels of energy and integrity and many impressive achievements.

My journeys in science have been wide and personally stimulating. Through my undergraduate and graduate student years, I studied electrical engineering with emphasis on physics and applied mathematics. Plasma physics led me to the Earth's ionosphere; the chemistry of the atmosphere followed as my research focus. The chemical composition of air is controlled by physical chemistry, by microbiological and geochemical sources, and the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with atoms and molecules, and it varies over short and long times and geographically. In my research on these phenomena, human inputs and influences became increasingly detectable, introducing roles of human behavior, technology, and public policy on the global environment.

In fields from cosmology through fundamental biology, science is able to map out such mechanisms by observing and explaining phenomena, and it poses new, deeper questions. Science also empowers humans by serving as the basis for beneficial technologies and health care and for wise societal decisions.

The public has been well-rewarded for supporting scientific research and indeed all of higher education. Yet today, recognition of the great rewards that have accrued from science and of potential future benefits is not at all commensurate. We have strong supporters but there is also widespread apathy and, in some quarters, antagonism toward science.

We must improve our communications with the public, to demonstrate better the benefits of science to individuals and to the entire country. Similarly we must assure people that the study of science and mathematics is exciting and important. By building understanding and re-building enthusiasm for science, we can gain political and financial support for science and for higher education.

Our National Academies reports are an excellent starting point. Our nonpartisan, peer-reviewed studies analyze complex and controversial topics. They provide the basis for effective use of resources -- both natural and financial -- in all matters of science, technology, medicine, and social policy.

All of you who participate in these studies help create this great resource. We will be calling on you to help us communicate more effectively with the public at large. A more science-oriented public is an outcome that will reward all of our efforts.


    RALPH J. CICERONE
    President
    National Academy of Sciences



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Copyright 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences