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If scientific research is ever going to get its much-needed increase in funding, we have to change the public’s perception of research:

A 2012 survey of Americans found that only 50% of respondents believe the benefits of scientific research “strongly” outweigh the bad. Another 22% said the benefits are only “slight,” while 7% feel the negatives outweigh the positive entirely.

The good news is that, in the same survey, the vast majority (83%) of respondents supported federal funding of scientific research. But 45% thought the current levels of funding were adequate, while only 38% said funding needs to increase.

Read more about this survey and the public’s opinion of science and technology in this 2014 report from the National Science Foundation:


Actor Alan Alda delivers a plenary lecture at the AAAS annual meeting in Chicago.

Actor Alan Alda delivers a plenary lecture at the AAAS annual meeting in Chicago.

Crowd control is not usually an issue at scientific meetings. But actor Alan Alda’s plenary talk at the an Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting earlier this month was an exception. Ten minutes before the scheduled start time, the ballroom was well beyond capacity and sentries began turning away hordes of disappointed scientists. I slipped inside just as the doors were closing and got one of the last seats on the floor.

In his talk, Alda explained how scientists can “get beyond a blind date” with the public, transforming jargon-laden, impersonal explanations of their work into engaging stories told in plain yet accurate language. He created the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University to give scientists hands-on training in how to communicate more effectively with the public. Alda showed us video clips of one technique that he uses to help scientists connect more strongly with their audience: improvisational theatre. After undergoing the improv training, which teaches students to be more aware of their own bodies and of the people around them, the scientists’ were much better at explaining their work in vivid and more relatable ways.

Read more about Alda’s lecture and find out about his Flame Challenge on the AAAS website, watch the improv training in action, or watch a New York Times interview with Alda.



Thanks to the power of the internet, now anyone can participate in scientific research! Fill out an online survey to help scientists track influenza trends. Contribute to a better understanding of the environmental impact of light pollution by using a smartphone app to measure the light pollution in your city. Upload a video of you and Fido playing to help psychologists learn about dog behavior. Scientific American’s list Citizen Science Projects has hundreds to choose from!