Science Needs Nonpartisan Advocates

Science and technology are not just for scientists. Without them, we wouldn't be able to treat cancer or diabetes; enjoy instantaneous communication; drive, fly, or ride across the country; read this piece on an iPad; and so much more that we take for granted today.

That's why it can be disastrous when political opposition and special interests are a barrier to the advancement of science.

The scientific community has been sounding warnings about the dangers of global warming and climate change for years. Evidence of increased carbon dioxide emissions, melting of glaciers and polar icecaps, and other indicators of global warming is overwhelming; however, some governments have been reluctant, if not hostile, to accepting and acting on this information in order to limit future damage.

Stem cells offer great potential for medical advancement due to their ability to grow into almost any type of cell, meaning cells damaged by injury or disease could be replaced with healthy versions. However, for years, federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was sharply limited.

John Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in Tennessee 87 years ago. The consequent "Scopes Monkey Trial" resonates today in the ongoing attempts to block the teaching of evolution in public schools and/or to require science teachers to include creationism or "intelligent design" in their classroom curriculum. The reemergence of this movement undermines the importance of basing scientific findings on testable evidence, violates the separation of church and state, and denies our students fundamental knowledge. The withholding of this knowledge puts U.S. students at a decided disadvantage in the global technology economy.

Most conversation recently about STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in the political arena has focused on budget cuts. Schools across the country are dealing with layoffs, larger class sizes, and a lack of science facilities and equipment. Public research universities sustained a reduction of about 10 percent in the past decade. California Governor Jerry Brown proposed in his 2012-2013 budget to cut the high school science requirement from two years to one. Funding shortfalls impact both the quality and quantity of educational opportunities available to our students and their eventual ability to compete in a global economy, which requires ever-increasing levels of technical knowledge and innovation.

The U.S. economy depends on the nation's continued investment in the advancement of science education and research -- the ability to constantly push the frontiers of research by building on the results of others. This is why preserving and increasing funding for STEM education is a major priority for SSP. Good policy comes from good science without the threat of political influence. Unfortunately, this is not always the reality.

Society for Science & the Public (SSP), a respected, longstanding nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, is positioned to be a clear, strong voice for science -- first, to counter skeptics and deniers; and second, to ensure that science is fully and compellingly represented in the competition for public resources and in the public discourse on science policy.

For 91 years, SSP has promoted the understanding and appreciation of science and the vital role it plays in human advancement. In this era of skepticism and intense competition for resources, we must redouble our efforts to promote the importance and value of science and science education; support research funding and legislation; and serve as a credible information source for science policy issues.