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 Summer 2012

After several months of preparation and planning, the Union of Concerned Scientists launched the Center for Science and Democracy on May 17. The Center’s ambitious mission is to strengthen American democracy by restoring the essential role of science, evidence-based decision making, and constructive debate in solving our nation’s most pressing problems. Well-informed debate is a time-honored tradition that, dating back to the founding of the United States, has repeatedly helped secure Americans’ health and prosperity.

 
Harold Varmus (left) speaks at our launch event in Cambridge, MA. Photo: Glenn Kulbako

We announced and celebrated the launch with about 250 UCS donors, scientists, area students and faculty, and leaders from the nonprofit, business, and policy sectors at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, MA. Distinguished speakers included Lawrence Bacow, president emeritus of Tufts University; Jessica Mathews, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate and director of the National Cancer Institute. Our supporters on the West Coast attended a similar event on June 13 at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA.

Putting Brain Power to Work

UCS Board Chair James McCarthy unveiled the Lewis M. Branscomb Science and Democracy Forum, named in honor of the eminent physicist whose generous gift helped get the Center off the ground. As a key component of the Center for Science and Democracy, the Branscomb Forums will bring interdisciplinary groups of scholars and practitioners together at universities, museums, and other institutions around the country to develop solutions to serious problems that threaten our nation’s health, well-being, and security. In addition to a workshop component, each forum will include a public “town hall” event to increase understanding about the problems at hand, and follow-on work to catalyze new approaches that apply the best available science.

UCS held a prototype forum in collaboration with Andrew Hoffman, director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, in January titled, “Increasing Public Understanding of Climate Risks and Choices.” Leading social and physical scientists, business and faith leaders, and journalists from around the nation worked together to identify the most effective strategies for combatting misinformation about climate change and building public understanding about the science and solutions. The forum’s public event, which focused on social science research that can help improve communications related to global warming, drew an audience of 300; a webcast of the event attracted a similar number of viewers worldwide.

A Multifaceted Approach

These forums are just one part of the Center for Science and Democracy’s energetic agenda. We have already begun mobilizing our 20,000-strong UCS Science Network to promote two-way dialogues between experts and non-experts. We also plan to build a cadre of non-scientist validators to speak to the values of science in our democracy—conveying in personal terms their own concerns about the deliberate disregard for science—and are exploring an annual “Science in Our Democracy” report calling attention to decision makers who misuse or disregard impartial scientific information in public discourse.

UCS has begun laying the groundwork to ensure American policy making will be informed by science, but we need your input and involvement to succeed. Watch for opportunities to participate as this exciting new venture unfolds.

 

Learn more about the Center for Science and Democracy