Most of us readily understand the importance of scientific literacy. Indeed, we know that everyone—not just scientists and engineers—benefits from the knowledge and the skills of science. With scientific literacy comes better decision-making capabilities and easier navigation through life's everyday challenges. A good science education is key to productivity and success.
Public understanding of science is also essential for the health of the scientific enterprise itself. Innovations of science are better understood and more likely to be accepted when the public understands the scientific process. Public support of science, including the allocation of tax dollars, is more likely to be sustained when people appreciate the value that science brings to solving everyday problems.
APA's mission is to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives. In this respect, APA has always been dedicated to nurturing the public understanding of science. Our outreach has included:
The Decade of Behavior initiative, which was spearheaded by APA to bring a greater awareness of the importance and relevance of behavioral and social science research. Public lectures and informational booklets help to spread the word (www.decadeofbehavior.org).
Psychology Matters, an APA Web resource featuring a compendium of psychological research that demonstrates the application and value of psychological science in our everyday lives. New material is continually added as important discoveries emerge from psychological science (http://psychologymatters.apa.org).
APA's Grand Challenges Initiative, developed this year by APA President Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, which demonstrates how psychological science offers insights and solutions to a number of the most challenging problems of society, including global climate change, prolonging vitality and reducing disparities in health care.
Every day, APA does its part to improve psychological science literacy. We must never lose sight of this important aspect of our mission. The goal of increasing and nurturing public understanding of science is one that psychology shares with all fields of science. That's why APA joined the Coalition for the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), a grassroots effort to increase public understanding of the nature of science and its value to society (www.copusproject.org).
The primary focus of COPUS is the Year of Science 2009 (www.yearofscience2009.org). This is an effort to share with the public an understanding of how science works, what it's like to be a scientist and why science matters. Each month of 2009 will feature a different theme, for many of which psychological science is central. Success of this project depends on community involvement. Psychological science will be represented if psychological scientists get involved.
Initiatives such as the Decade of Behavior and the Year of Science 2009 are meant to improve scientific literacy. That too is the goal of the AAAS Project 2061—an ongoing effort to establish benchmarks for science literacy. It is worth taking a close look at what those benchmarks include (www.project2061.org).
We often worry that psychological science is excluded from formal designations of scientific disciplines. Yet the Project 2061 benchmarks include entire sections devoted to the human organism and to human society. When it comes to establishing the essentials of scientific literacy and what should be included in what all students learn, psychology is a central component.
The reality, however, is that many political and scientific leaders fail to accept psychological science as science. Perhaps they never learned all of what Project 2061 aspires for students of science.
A vigorous program of public education and improved public understanding of science may be the remedy we need.