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Summer 2006 Vol. 6 No. 2

Table of Contents

Photo by Bachrach FROM THE PRESIDENT

Institute of Medicine

Getting the Right Answers to the Right Audiences

Every facet of our lives today -- where and how we live, our daily work and entertainment, how we move from one place to another, our health and well-being -- is bound to science and technology. It is no wonder that the nation turns so frequently to the National Academies for scientific, evidence-based advice. This issue of In Focus features a typically varied sampling of topics from our recent reports, ranging from organ donation to energy production.

Our job is to advise -- to inform public debate and responsible decision makers. Occasionally, this means providing perspective on broad social transitions, as in the report on Hispanics in America. Other reports make the case for the role of science and technology in particular policy domains, such as international development. More broadly, the recent report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which garnered such wide attention, emphasized the vital role of science and technology in society as a whole and recommended investments in education and research that will promote jobs, progress, and a scientifically literate populace.

Many reports tackle policy questions and must assess a technical standard or review scientific evidence that bears on the question, as our reports on the safety of naturally occurring fluoride in drinking water, the reconstruction of historic surface temperatures, and the reusability of facemasks to reduce the spread of flu do. These focused studies may carry major policy implications in such critical areas as setting environmental and health standards, apprehending and dealing with climate change, and preparing for possible pandemics.

Fulfilling our mission as adviser to the nation requires two things: developing the advice and communicating the results. To communicate successfully, we must be attuned to the needs and interests of our audiences. This is no small requirement because the relevant audiences for different reports range widely across elected officials, agency directors, civic and business leaders, academic researchers, professionals and professional organizations, institutional leaders, parents and families, and the public at large. The reports on organ donation and on vehicle tires and fuel economy illustrate that a spectrum of lay, professional, business, and government actors may be relevant recipients of our advice. Over time, the National Academies will have its greatest impact if we can both get the right answers in the right way and reach the right audiences in the most effective way.

    Institute of Medicine

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Copyright 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences