Science, information, and society The interface between science and society has always been a rough one, and the scientific ignorance of society-at-large is often lamented. Despite this ignorance, society is called upon to influence in a variety of ways decisions related to complex technological issues. Such issues include many from the environmental realm, for example, energy and air quality, toxic chemicals, radioactive wastes, etc. The ability of the public to exert informed influence depends critically on the flow of relevant scientific information, and the scientific community must bear the major responsibility for maintaining the flow. Two aspects of this flow are of particular concern. The first is the transfer of information from scientist to scientist. A vast amount of information is generated as a result of scientific research, and some of this information is eventually published in scholarly journals after a peer review. However, much information is available only in government reports. These are often not subject to peer review and usually do not receive wide circulation despite distribution by the National Technical Information Service or the sponsoring agency. A broad exposure of research results, however, is the most important element of any quality assurance program. A result which cannot survive the light of day should play no role in policy decisions. Both sponsors and researchers alike should strive to attain the broadest possible circulation for their research with emphasis on journal publication where appropriate. In this regard, the recent initiation of an external review process for research reports by the Environmental Protection Agency is a step in the right direction. The second aspect of information flow is the communication of research results to the public. For the foreseeable future, environmental policies will represent compromises between environmental quality
@ 1980 American Chemical Society
and economic considerations. The public must not labor under the delusion that science and technology can provide the perfect solution to an environmental problem. Ultimately, an informed choice between various partial solutions is always demanded of the public or its representatives. The transmission of information to the public, however, is the weakest link in the information flow and one which could benefit significantly from new ideas. Innovative uses of the broadcast, film, and print media could make important contributions to improving the general scientific literacy and could-as a side benefit-improve the public’s appreciation for the role of science in society. Environmental scientists have a particular obligation to communicate their science to the public in an objective, understandable, and interesting format. With some effort and considerable imagination, this could be an exciting and rewarding task for those who choose to become involved.
Dr. James J. Huntzicker is associate professor of Environmental Science and chairman of the Department of Environmental Science at the Oregon Graduate Center, Beaverton. Ore.
Volume 14, Number 5, May 1980